A Bridge Too Far

As a product manager, have you ever clearly seen the strategy and it just didn’t resonate?  Why?  Where did it go wrong?  Personally, I think myself pretty good at identifying, partnering and communicating strategy, but I have to admit that a recent presentation landed like a “lead balloon”.


My introspection started with an insightful article by Daria Montijo, a brilliant social marketer sharing her observations from SXSW.  In addition to her wit, Daria’s benevolence to mankind is her willingness to control the antics of her husband and good friend of mine; Michael.  A brilliant mind in his own right, Michael’s expertise is in Software-Defined Infrastructure.  A topic so esoteric that if mentioned outside of work, I will redirect to discussing simpler topics such as podcasts focused on the whereabouts of Richard Simmons or a Dinner Party Download joke.  They typically start with something like, “What’s the difference between a Hippo and a Zippo?  A hippo is really heavy and a zippo is ‘a little lighter’”.


Don’t judge. I love that joke.


Back to Daria.  She notes five themes coming out of SXSW with one that resonated with me immediately; failure.  She writes, “Failure – as a business tool and personal growth driver was everywhere this year. It’s practically become the entrepreneur’s religion. But the underlying message here was more about doing than failing…”  (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/mental-inspirational-reboot-5-themes-from-sxsw-daria-montijo).  I got to thinking about my ‘unconscious errors’ of doing and one in particular that I have recently made in the past couple of years is the communication of a major strategy.  For the purpose of this post, let’s call this experience a “bridge too far.”


After months of research including customers, R&D teams, IT, industry trends, magic quadrants, trusted colleagues, UX, call center, field representatives, etc…  I was confident in the roadmap, strategy, mission, visions etc.  I had examples of success, of complexity and customer expectation.  I was ready.  The presentation was reviewed and edited countless times.  I was confident and then it landed…like a lead-balloon with a loud and poignant thud.  It was clearly a bridge too far.


The end state was conceptually unattainable.  In essence, I identified the moon-shot prior to the first rocket.  No one could see how to even to get there from here.  When speaking of the kennedymoon, John F. Kennedy gave supporting details of the Saturn booster rocket, 40 U.S. satellites have circled the earth as well the Soviet Union’s successes.  In a single presentation, President Kennedy confidently shared what was already done and emphasized that others had done it as well.  This ensured all of us in our ability and reminded the American public that we were in a competitive environment.  This was my gap.  I forgot to share the strategy on the reality of what was accomplished or established competition.  In my case, the examples used to demonstrate success where real, but they were not our successes.  Referring to Apple as an example shows aspiration, but not our foundation.


The result was easy to predict:  team frustration.  The team spent too much time playing catch-up for buy-in and alignment.  In short, I significantly extended the “storming…” part on the way to “performing.”  We spent months investing in tools, processes and supporting release after release in the improvement of capacity, predictability and quality.  Today, we are on the Launchpad for our moonshot and belief is strong, but the work to get here was unnecessarily harder than it needed to be.  My key lessons learned:

  • Share the Why
  • ID What is Possible
  • Base belief foundation on the organizations’ past successes


The reality is that I am in the center of doing.  I am on the pitch with a dynamic team around me and I own a clear, attainable and realistic vision.  The collective team has to believe the vision based on reality and the confidence to act and “light this candle.”

The Collective Consciousness

There are three buzz words that are penetrating the corporate offices these days; “agile development”, “IoT” and the up and coming Four Disciplines of Execution (“4DX”).  In my role focused on marketing, edge layer technology and internal software that monitors, alerts and distributes throughout the organization; I am living in the intersection of all three.  What is profoundly interesting is how each one is focused on a unique industry with a completely different consumer demographic and yet the concepts of Agile, IoT and 4DX encourage identical behaviors.  What is also entertaining is how organizations dismiss the other in an offhanded, sound-bite, oversimplified manner (sound familiar?) to promote the importance of their own perspective.


Not to belabor the point, but to clearly understand the common core principles of all three disciplines, we must be aware and accept the genesis of the discourse.  Conflict, traditionally, points to either LoveMoney or both.  I wish it were that simple.  In this case, I see it as lacking the accepting of having a “collective consciousness” across industries and within organizations.  A common purpose or stated mission/vision to guide all organizations within the firm give a shared direction.  Discourse comes into play when smaller teams or individuals feel isolated and disconnected from the rest of the team.  Think about American football and how hard it is to keep offense and defense connected when they are treated as separated entities with different missions.  catIn business, the same effects occur.  For examples, in my training within Scrum Alliance, the instructor insisted that pure agile development does not allow for timelines or date driven expectations.  This is the complete opposite of how businesses function and measured on the stock market.  Everyone in the room experienced what I did in that moment with our own proverbial ‘Schrodinger’s Cat’ juggling the co-existence of both trusting the message while distrusting the messenger.  Even in the history of the Agile Manifesto, Jim Highsmith states in a passive-aggressive manner, “Quite frankly, the Agile approaches scare corporate bureaucrats— at least those that are happy pushing process for process’ sake versus trying to do the best for the “customer” and deliver something timely and tangible and “as promised”—because they run out of places to hide.”  I can also remember the CEO of a manufacturing company comments in my MBA class that stated software developers just enjoy, “…their hacky sack and table-tennis” as the benefits of the job.”  There are millions of these spirited comments in the IoT industry and most have a reference to a refrigerator talking with the owner’s car.  All funny and light-hearted, but none are productive in establishing a shared purpose for the team.


Having said that, if we focus on the core principles of each of the three approaches, one can not only see the similarities but the same kernel of truth.  In short, all three have the following common principles:

  • The importance role of the Self-Govern
  • Federated Model for action and features
  • Accountability and Responsibility



  • Agile fits into this construct perfectly with self-regulating scrum teams determining stories, priorities, design considerations and user experiences.  agileReviewing the twelve principles of the Agile Manifesto, one can easily see the team-centric decision-making and ownership.  “Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.”  This is further emphasized in the “What is Agile” ten principles including, “The team must be empowered to make decisions”.
  • In the IoT world, the importance of Self-Government is inherent in the consumer controlling what they use and how.
    This theory is strengthened by the Paul Samuelson economic description of Adam Smith’s invisible hand, “that each individual in pursuing his own selfish good was led, as if by an invisible hand, to achieve the best good of all…”  Consumers have an incredible about of options that they essential self-govern the valued products by ignoring the products and services less valuable or inaccessible.
  • The 4DX concept in raising the effectiveness of delivery is based on a foundation of strengthen culture through engagement and building alignment.  This is bluntly articulated through an established “rule”.  Rule #3 states, “Senior leaders can veto, but not dictate.  Simply put, employees become more engaged in a goal that they choose themselves….”


A Federated Model:  A great story by General Stanley McChrystal, author of “A Team of teams goes like this…  “I would tell my staff about the “dinosaur’s tail”: As a leader grows more senior, his bulk and tail become huge, but like the brontosaurus, his brain remains modestly small. When plans are changed and the huge beast turns, its tail often thoughtlessly knocks over people and things. That the destruction was unintentional doesn’t make it any better.”

  • The rapid iteration (with Quality!) can only be successful with a small team focused on incremental releases.  In larger teams, the messaging and focus becomes diluted which results in variation of message and outcome.  Successful agile teams are small with laser-focus on the incremental releases.  This dynamic approach aligns with all ‘team’ concepts with some limited number pf players all working for the same goal.  Soccer and Football represent the largest number of teammates on the pitch at the same time with eleven.  Flexible and nimble agile teams look to that same number of participants.  (https://hbr.org/2012/08/why-less-is-more-in-teams)
  • IoT aficionados don’t have to look further that the upcoming 5G network and architecture to see the value of the federated model.  The power of 5G with wireless speeds up to 10Gbps will move away from the sole dependency of the cell towers and have to utilize mini-towers to support the 20+ billion IoT devices in 2020.  This model is needed to support self-driving cars that will need instantaneous communication with absolute security.  (On a side note, this technology is moving so rapidly, it’s best to keep an eye on what your customers will expect and how in the very near future.  To quote Ferris, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it”.)
  • 4DX efforts require a weekly discipline of the team in a weekly measurement.  In agile vernacular, it would be referred to as a “stand-up”.  discipline1Team conversations that last between 5 and 15 minutes, and take place standing up to physical remind the team to be brief and to the point.  In a 4DX model, how many people can effectively conduct this exercise, hold each other accountable and be respectful of time?  The hypothesis for this number would align with our sports model referenced above.  Can you image have a weekly discussion with 40-100 people in a single room?  (not without picturing one of three frames in a Dilbert cartoon.)


Accountability and Responsibility:  As the head coach of the New England Patriots that have won five Superbowls, Bill Belichick is associated with the famous quote, “Do your job.”  The emphasis is on the “your”.  Stay focused on what you can influence and control and not to expend unnecessary energy on those outside of your sphere of influence.  All three efforts have the same focus and accountability.

  • The retrospective in Agile has teammates look each other in the eye and share the things that they did well and what did not go well.  The best examples are not finger pointing activities, but based on learning as not to make the same mistake in the next sprint.
  • IoT designs are accountable to the customer and the enablement of information flowing so effortlessly that regardless of the modality, the customer can manage their experience.  PrintFor example, mobile banking allows for checks to the be deposited in the same manner as an actual branch.  The lack of this functionality will drive customers away.  This is very similar to the perspective of the ‘self-govern’, but what is different, is the customer’s behavior is immediate holding the service provider accountable by feedback and/or the discontinuation of service.
  • The importance of measurement is captured in two data points.  The first one, ‘Lagging’ measures, is represented by team goals and the second one is identified by ‘Lead’ Measures.  Lead measures are predictable and we can influence them in a timely manner to have an impact on the Lag measures.  For example, I can measure calorie intake and exercise as a lead indicator for the goal of losing weight.  In the 4DX world, accountability is an incredibly important component of the scorecard.  Measuring leading and lagging influential activities and sharing those efforts with peers in the weekly ‘stand-ups’ is a direct and personal manner to be held accountable for the very measurements that the collective team agreed in the first place.


Interestingly enough, the three pillars of Self-Governing, Federated Model and Accountability & Responsibility are nothing more than disparate lenses of “Teamwork”.  Relying on those on the team to take initiative, collaborate and achieve the collective goal.  With that as a baseline, it would be in the best interest of the IT, SW and LOB teams within the organization to celebrate the commonalities which are founded on the same principles rather than highlighting the differences.  Exacerbating the divide is utilizing processes & designs that are catered to separate organizations.  What would be best for the company is not only to embrace the “best-in-class” for each team as their own but to integrate all of the disciplines together.  For example, utilizing the 4DX model to measure the lead indicators of g-ready stories, leveraging Agile to iterate the scorecard for 4DX or implementing IoT features that drive consumer utilization scorecards.  The list is endless.


The foundation of success regardless of being 4DX, Agile, IoT, etc… are the people you trust, lean on and take risks with for the good of the firm.  Stated by Nicki Lisa Cole, “The collective consciousness informs our sense of belonging and identity, and our behavior. Founding sociologist Émile Durkheim developed this concept to explain how unique individuals are bound together into collective units like social groups and societies.”  Regardless of how…the ‘why’ is to blur the lines of organization construct to support the shared purpose of the organization staying true to the mission and celebrate the team along the journey.  Best of Luck!








An actual IoT Edge use case

By the year 2020 it is projected that 28 billion devices (“things”) will be connected to the Internet. That’s a mind-boggling number when you stop and think about it. As the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to define the future of technology, key challenges emerge. How will those 28 billion things work effectively on an increasingly crowded information highway? What is the impact on the customer experience with so many devices competing for limited Internet bandwidth?

These are some of the forward-looking questions IDEXX is asking as we continue to innovate in ways that address the practical needs of veterinary practices. The answer to these challenges lies in IDEXX taking our innovative products and services like the IDEXX Vet Lab Station (IVLS) … to the “Edge.”

The “Edge”…?
While you may not associate this term with leading innovation, “Edge” technology is the next step forward in our ability to efficiently deliver information to customers. Many of us have heard of cloud technology where data from a device is transported to the cloud for processing and analysis and then back to an instrument or device, but the “Edge” is a layer of connectivity that is not reliant on the Internet, therefore providing lower risk of outages and faster response times.

Think of your FitBit, in that the data gathered by this device is sent to your smartphone for analysis and is presented to you in a meaningful way. This eliminates the dependency on an Internet connection.  Adds Terry Tompkins, IDEXX IVLS Development Lead, “Granted it is only milliseconds in most cases, but those milliseconds can add up as more devices compete for cloud processing via an Internet connection.”

The “Edge” layer PC brings the power of cloud computing right into the practice. This ensures veterinarians the ability of in-clinic treatment whether a hurricane knocks out communication lines or a local network cable is cut.  

  • ivls_archSynchronizes, organizes and displays a clinic’s in-house diagnostics automatically
  • Provides practices the ability to service their clients even without Internet connections
  • Retains data in the event the Internet connection is lost



ivls_1What’s next?  “Edge” technology benefits IDEXX customers, including our international markets that face infrastructure challenges associated with bandwidth and internet connectivity. “Addressing the unique challenges of our customers takes many different forms. Innovations like Edge technology are one important way we can meet the practical needs of our international customers in a very meaningful way,” says Cleveland Ngan, Senior Director and General Manager for Japan, China & North Asia Region. “We share a common goal and that is to make IDEXX better than yesterday.” 



IDEXX is embracing our leading role in IoT development and design. Establishing an “Edge” layer in concert with our continuous investment in SmartService, our slice of the 28 billion connection is strong. The IDEXX VetLab Station is an important component in ensuring instruments work as expected and when expected, keeping the customer front and center when making decisions.



IDEXX is leading the IoT way

16th century English philosopher and passionate advocate for the scientific method, Francis Bacon once said, “Knowledge is power.” While the thought might be centuries old, it is driving the dramatic evolution of IoT (Internet of Things) and the IDEXX’s innovation journey with products and services such as IDEXX SmartService™.


As IDEXX customers run Chemistry, Hematology and the newest Urinalysis instrument, the SediVue Dx; SmartService™ monitors for ‘performance alerts’ reducing downtime, enhance functionality and keep the Veterinarian and Technicians focused on what matters most; the pet and pet-owner.


It’s more than just data.
We know data is only as good as what we do with it. This is a foundational element of IDEXX SmartService™ which provides veterinary practices with proactive services over a secure Internet connection for most IDEXX VetLab in-house analyzers. On a given day, SmartService manages more than 100 million transactions on over 40,000 devices including IDEXX VetLab Station, ProCyte Dx IPU, SediVue Dx, Digital and Cardiopet.


With the collective leadership of Melissa Lapointe and Biswa Prakash (Product Manager and Development Leader respectively for SmartService™) the team built a hybrid cloud application that uses the best of our IT infrastructure and Amazon Web Services.  With the information coming from SmartService, our product managers and R&D partners are able to identify the right initiatives that will benefit our customers the most.


The power of SmartService data doesn’t stop here. It also plays a pivotal role in exceeding customer expectations – with five key examples below.

Five ways SmartService™ continues to innovate and help IDEXX exceed customer expectations
1.       The application allows our Customer Experience consultants to have all the diagnostic information at their fingertips to help us resolve quickly and reliably our customer’s concerns.  We also can proactively address issues at the practice before they are even noticeable to our customers.

2.       SmartService™ enables NEO, (IDEXX SaaS based PIMS) to send their customer’s lab order to the IDEXX VetLab Station leveraging a micro service built to support this new Cloud Practice management software solution.

3.       SmartService™ enables new endeavors like our points programs to incentivize customers to purchase our equipment or consumables and the new “Pay Per Run” program for SediVue Dx which allows our customers to obtain revenue before we invoice them based on their utilization.

4.       Remote Access to allow for customer support to see exactly what the customer sees to speed up trouble shooting.

5.       Targeted software deployment to support geographical and/or corporate customer needs.


At IDEXX laboratories, our investment of IoT is going on five (5) years strong!  Connecting Veterinarians with diagnostic data is the heart of the IDEXX experience. “We are years ahead of most of the IoT industry,” says Jeff Dixon, Corporate VP of Customer Facing Software.  He continues, “The maturity of the team and our IoT environment enables quarterly releases a year without any fanfare or notice.  Our customers immediately see the benefits on the instruments and appreciate the low-touch and no-impact to their job.  The coolest thing is when our SmartService™ team attended a conference in Boston with the leading companies in the industry; instead of trying to sell their products, several started taking notes.”


Already, in the new world of IoT, IDEXX is a well-established leader.  With an eye on maturing the experience and building a strong foundation; the next question is obvious, where do we go from here?


In short, IDEXX is emphasizing “Self-Service”.


The self-service model is one where the customer is either unaware of issues because they were resolved without impact or is clearly informed on how to resolve quickly and easily.  In both cases, the ideal scenario is not to impact the pet and pet-owner.  In a recent article by Cisco describing primary drivers of Internet of Everything (IoE), value is found in employee productivity, cost reduction, citizen experience, and increased revenue.”[1]  The self-service model enables these points perfectly.


IDEXX Veterinarians and Technicians want the instruments to work as expected and when expected.   As technology changes, the consistent pillar at IDEXX is to keep the customer front and center of decision making.  With recent IoT history demonstrating, albeit a short history, one thing is certain; it is that IDEXX’s SmartService™ will be leading the way in connecting instrument information with Veterinarians and Technicians for the benefit of pets and their well-being.


Soccer Mgrs make Great Business Leaders

We have all seen it before. A major decision has to be made, a presentation has to be shared or a financial allocation routine needs approval and what happens? Senior level leaders ask for the information in a month (a reasonable expectation by most standards) but the delegation to middle managers turns into a concoction of hurried information and mindless review only exacerbated by the number of levels of managers in the organization. The result is obvious; micromanagement has created poor morale and decisions; well-intentioned, are suspect.

Although these activities are destructive; they are ubiquitous. They happen in most organizations in a weekly, if not daily frequency. Why? Looking through the lenses of a sports enthusiast; this series of checking and re-checking is a direct result of the “coach’s condition”.

The lack of trust in employees and the belief that coaches are as much a part of the match permeates throughout the sporting and business world. Just attend a youth event and listen to the active set of instructions coaches shout during the play. “Pass the ball”, “Run to your left”, “Shoot” and “Don’t swing” are common expressions heard while the player has a split second to decide for him/herself what to do. Micromanagement is additionally encouraged in the rules of the game themselves. American football coaches get three time-outs to instruct and/or adjust per half. This is in addition to the TV time-outs and the endless personal adjustments that can occur at the end of each play. These coaching changes and opportunities to influence the game are even greater in hockey, baseball and especially in basketball.

The link between business and sport is tethered.  The same dads and mom that spend their Saturdays calling timeouts and micromanaging children are the same ones in the office from 9-5, Monday through Friday.  The scene may have changed, but the characteristics remain the same.  Micromanaging firms may be successful in the short term but typically are not sustainable.

An example can be found in the famous case of Lee Iacocca at Chrysler articulated in the book, “From Good to Great” written by Jim Collins.  Iacocca, he said, did improve the fate of Chrysler while he was chief executive, but he never completed a long-term vision for the company. Evidence of the micro-managing existed in the lack of leadership when he left the company.  The tribulations of Chrysler are well documented including the recent need for Government funds…again.  Chrysler, Collins notes, is an example of “good-to-great-to-imploding”.

Micromanaging or the “coach’s condition” cannot successfully exist long-term in the business world or through the course of a season in one particular sport: Soccer.

There are three major reasons why on the pitch, in the board room or in the office soccer managers make great business leaders.

  • An understanding that the game is a player-centric sport.
  • Mangers can’t make all of the decisions in an effective organization. They have to   rely on the people they are leading
  • As soccer managers are unable to play the match themselves, their influence can be seen   through the design of formation to enable their strategy on the players.


  • Organizational design is a critical component to encourage the right behaviors in the firm.
  • The match is a fluid activity without timeouts. The manager’s direct impact is further limited by the finite number of substitutions in National play (one country   vs another). In these matches, managers only get three (3) subs the entire   match.
  • Business   is a 24×7 cycle. There is no ability to stop customers from coming to the   door and continue to be successful. Decisions happen in the course of a   business cycle; not outside of it.


Understanding that the game is a player-centric sport

Managers can’t make all of the decisions in an effective organization. They have to rely on the people they are leading. This is the basic function of management. Players and employees were hired for their experience, intelligence and motivation to do the job well. Soccer managers are trained to trust and depend on the player’s physical and cognitive skills within the course of the match. With other sports, players look to the coach for what to do next (play calls) in basketball, signals in baseball and the directions called in from the sideline for American football. Coaches make game adjustments and provided immediate validation of success or failure. Not true in soccer. The players and more importantly; the employees within the firm are capable of making decisions in the course of the business day (or match) and understand what is successful or not.

In the firm, employees are educated and intrinsically motivated to handle the rigors of the job. Soccer managers, as well, have the unique privilege of working with a higher form of cognitive ability with their players. The experience of managing cerebral players enables a seamless move from the pitch to the conference room.

According to research Plos One and reported by Wired magazine; which soccer players, “…excel is executive function — a term that includes creative problem solving, multi-tasking, inhibition and working memory. That last one, working memory, refers to the ability to recall previously stored information on the spot and use it to problem solve. Many of these are skills that can be seen on the field: employing strategy in the midst of a game (creativity, working memory), executing a play while also surveying the field (multi-tasking) and following the rules of the game (inhibition).”


Soccer managers influence the match through the formation to enable their strategy on the players

The challenge is how to influence without actually being in the meeting or on the pitch to kick the ball. This is a constant dilemma for all firms. Organizational design is a critical component to encourage the right behaviors in the firm. In the end, these constructs are paramount to a manager’s ability to influence. For example, a firm can organize (as described by: http://www.referenceforbusiness.com/management/Ob-Or/Organizational-Structure.html) by the classic constructs of:

  • Functional
  • Geographical
  • Product
  •  Customer / Market
  • Matrixed
  • Strategic Business Unit

How to organize is based on a set of influences as firms adapt to the market, become too large by organic growth or through M&A. Geographical challenges are especially complex as well as product prioritization and brand alignment. Organizational design is intended to eliminate the complexities and draw upon the strengths of the firm and to enable the managers and employees to be individuals within the strategy of the firm or team. These challenges are the same for soccer managers.

Players come from different countries and speak different languages. The geographical and cultural challenges are always present. Even so, teams with significant foreign players are doing well. This past season (2012) Manchester City had players from England, Spain, Italy, etc… and they won the English Premier League (EPL). Newcastle United brought in an influx of players from France and Senegal and moved strikingly up the EPL table. How was the manager able to influence a diverse team to succeed?  Obviously, there are many cultural and language barriers to manage, but during the course of the match and much like the organization model in firms, managers rely on formations to influence the team.

Formations (4-4-2, 3-5-2, etc…) become the common language for footballers. Esperanto in its concept, the formation dictates behaviors and guard-rails to play within.  For example, a “4-4-2” formation communicates the importance of ball control across the pitch and highlights the risks of the gaps that exist between the central defenders, midfielders and strikers. The “4-3-3” formation emphasizes the outside midfield attack at the expense of defense.  As in business, the formation or organizational design enables the manager to communicate priorities, risks and strategy to the employees.


The match is a fluid activity without timeouts.

Business is a 24×7 cycle. There isn’t an ability to stop customers from coming through the door and stillcontinue to be successful. Decisions happen in the course of a business cycle; not outside of it. There are hundreds of business books, Harvard Business Review articles and thousands of blogs on how firms ‘can’, ‘should’ or ‘should have’ adjusted to changing market conditions. Every market adjustment is unique and the behavior to adjust in mid-game is challenging. The American sports mindset of calling a “time-out”; ever present in a game, does not exist in business or a soccer match.

Additionally, adjustments are not haphazard. They are planned, thought through and analyzed during the course of the match. Take, for example, a couple of years ago, an adjustment made by Manchester City against my favorite team, Newcastle United. A must-win for both, the second half started 0-0 with both teams playing anxiously. Newcastle was trying to earn a spot in the Champions League and City trying to win the Premiership title. Twenty minutes into the second half, the City coach (Mancini) made a change by replacing an attacking player (Nasri) for a defensive one (de Jong), the seemingly counterintuitive move enabled another player (Toure) to advance up the pitch exposing a gap in the Newcastle midfield.  This move from Mancini enabled Toure to draw upon his strengths and eventually scored two goals.

Mancini’s decision was a simple one that yielded the needed result. But breaking down the move, one can see the brilliance in its simplicity. Mancini did not call the play, call ‘timeout’ or send in a signal; he noticed an advantage and supported his players to be successful.


In the end, the characteristics of successful business leaders and soccer managers are one-in-the-same. In both scenarios, they rely on the people they are leading, use the structure to enable tendencies & behaviors and make decisions within the business cycle. Of course, in my humble opinion, these traits are best demonstrated in the confines of St. James Park.

Disney Experience?

If a product is truly going to be successful, then the customers have to be a part of the development, contribute to its growth, as well as embrace it’s widespread adoption.  Good Product Managers are ferocious in their pursuit of client’s feedback based on their experience.  With that said, what defines experience?  This is ever changing and now more difficult than ever to differentiate ‘experience’ with ‘perceived experience’.

Experience is defined by Merriam-Webster as, “direct observation of or participation in events as a basis of knowledge” or “the fact or state of having been affected by or gained knowledge through direct observation or participation”.  It is the phrase “direct observation” that is at the kernel of ‘experience’.disney

For example, my recent trip to Disney World made this more poignant than ever.  As the light show started at Cinderella’s castle, one can see about 20% of the audience pull out their smartphones, tablets, cameras and video cameras to tape the show they are about to watch.  (click on the picture to judge for yourself)  Watching this, I ask the very simple on the surface but complex question; if you watch a show or any event through the lenses of another agent, then do you really experience it or simply watch it much like a TV show or movie?

I have seen many Super Bowls on tv, but can I say that I have experienced one?  I have flown on the ride, Soarin in Epcot described as “hang-gliding” over landscapes in California while I skim rolling waves, powdery ski slopes, majestic redwood forests, fragrant orange groves and familiar landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge, but have I experienced hang-gliding?  In both cases, the true experience is an observation of someone else’s encounters coupled with reminders of the true moment that come with  commercials during the super bowl or the feet dangling above your head from the riders in “Soarin”.   In the same vein, the events videotaped are boxed in by the black frame of the camera.

Quite simply, the lens creates a physical barrier and now the one holding the video equipment might as well be sitting at home watching the fireworks on TV instead of dealing with the chaos of the crowd.  I understand that the person is listening to the music, feeling the weather and smelling the popcorn but the focus is changed.  The first disconnect starts not with the embracing the moment without distraction, but with the focus of the camera, the lighting, the angle of the picture, etc.  The second disconnect is in the lack of interaction with the people in the crowd whether they are family, friends or people that you look to in awe of the spectacle that everyone is watching.  The person is concentrated on capturing the right picture rather than sharing the experience with those around him/her.

I was talking with a friend of mine at our kid’s soccer match and he was half-laughing and half-bothered by his mom’s lack of interaction with her grandchildren, but obsessive about using the ipad in photographing everything they do.  In one respect, her perspective can be a sweet one trying to capture every little moment, but his (and quite honestly; mine as well) perspective is a detached observer not interested in the moment but more interested in recording the memory.  Now, before we enter a psychological hypothesis that I am not qualified to make; it is important to note that there are two distinct perspectives in this example.

The first is in the disconnected experience of the observer which has already been discussed previously.  The second is how others perceive the observer.  Most often, the perception is a personal one and more likely than not; negative by those involved in the activity.  This is often expressed by the workers in describing management as unaware or aloof in the details of how to operate the firm.  In my friend’s case, these negative emotions manifest in their family dynamics of frustration and irritation.

Translated in the working world, an easy example is the one when Management is asking for a reporting extension of the product.  The report shows that the money invested into the product was of good use because 90% of the user population has the new product/service loaded on their desktop.  This demonstrates success.  Right?  Is this real experience or ‘perceived experience’?  The customer can say that they benefit from the product/service because they have it, but do they experience it?  They have reports that are accessible, but one can argue that; in reality, they may not provide actionable or usable information since management’s lens is clouded, removed and/or disconnected.   This is a simple and somewhat real-world experience, but the point goes back to what does the client want to experience?  What eventually happens is the true activity is lost because the individual (or management in this example) did not experience or fully participate in the original event (in this case – the need for reporting).

It is paramount that the IT Product Management understands their clients and ascertaining what are their real experiences, and what are their ‘perceived experiences’.  Have you asked the right questions to know what they really want or what they think they want?  Have they given you the answer or the question?  Most importantly, from which set of eyes are their observations based; the true experience or the lens of an observer?

Nations 1st Product Manager

I was asked the other day by a friend, “What is Product Management?”  I gave my usual 30-second elevator speech describing a small business owner within the firm focused on marketing, price-point, charge-back, volume forecasting, etc…  I continued the discussion about the perpetual focus on a product or a service beyond the project.  As friends, we had many discussions in the past ranging from work, R&D, sports and politics and then it dawned on me; in honor of the upcoming Fourth of July holiday, a great example of an outstanding Product Management from political history was John Adams.  Essentially, the 2nd President of the United States was our first successful Product Management.  His product was the great “American Experience”.

For the purpose of this discussion, the “American Experience” is a mixture of a land ruled by laws, a democratic process, a strong sense of republican activities and separation of powers with checks and balances. This Product had several champions, but it was essentially a single Product Manager; John Adams that guided the development, growth and maturation of the “America Experience”.  Following the standard routines within the Product Management Lifecycle, John Adams was able to (as Steve Jobs said), be the “…gravitational force that pulls it all together.”[i]

Development:  In setting the example, John Adams became the de facto Product Manager in the sense that he became the Subject Matter Expert or single point of contact.

  • In the aftermath of the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770, Adams represented the accused British Captain Thomas Preston in firm in the belief, as he said, that no man in a free country should be denied the right to counsel and a fair trial.(pg 66, John Adams, David McCullough, 2001)
  • Promoting the new ideas of government, John Adams was asked for expertise and wrote, “Thoughts of Government”  for the colonies of North Carolina, Rhode Island, Virginia and New Jersey (pg 101, John Adams, David McCullough, 2001)

Growth:  Engaging the customer base, Adams risked everything by enabling the customers of the service become the champions of the enhanced product.  These “Early Adopters” become the most ardent supporters of the new type of government.

  • The initial resolution of independence that was passed on May 15, 1776 was to force a yea or no vote in the colonial legislatures where several colonies looked to local governments for passage. This strategy (although against his natural instincts) was an Adams strategy that enabled “Fruits of independence ripened on the imperial vine”.  (pgs 49-51, Revolutionary Summer, Joseph Ellis)
  • In support of the war effort, John Adams was on the committee to write the Declaration of Independence, nominated George Washington to be the Commander in Chief, became the first de facto Secretary of War, petitioned the government of Holland for support, Ambassador to France and negotiated the peace treaty with England.

Maturity:  The initial product, the “Articles of Confederation” was a good start but omitted key components of a successful government; a common currency, central government, a standing army, etc…  Once again, Adams, in England, was left to influence the masses on new government from afar.  He took this improved service and implemented it with the same passion as defending the English Captain years earlier.

  • Wrote the papers, “Defence” emphasizing that Government of laws and not men.
  • Elected the first Vice-President serving for two consecutive terms and subsequently elected the second President
  • Was able to see his son elected to the Presidency.

What made Adams unique in this collection of patriots, intellects, soldiers and revolutionaries were his continuous contributions that came from the man from Braintree, Massachusetts.  Everyone else retracted, distanced themselves or retired for brief spells in the development of the American experience.

  • Washington (the supreme Project Manager) after ensuring success in the war, retired to Mount Vernon after the war only to come back 10 years later in 1789
  • Hamilton (finance) quit his post as Secretary of the Treasury in Washington’s second term
  • Jefferson (Marketing) chiefly known for his eloquence in the Declaration of Independence had a spotty record of consistency from fleeing the governor’s mansion as well as quitting his post of Secretary of State in Washington’s second term.  (pg 313, Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow)

From idealistic lawyer, convention architect, thought leader, ambassador, Vice-President, President and symbol of the revolution; John Adams had a direct hand in the beginning for 30 years and indirectly for additional 26.  This is the epitome of Product Management.  Adams was armed with a clear problem statement, desire for continuous improvement, subject matter expertise, passion for the service and unyielding belief that its starts and ends with the customer.