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.”