When was the last time you checked your mix of project types?

project managerWhy identify your project types?

Recognition that most organizations have a mix of different types of projects being worked on by product managers, R&D, engineering, marketing etc., is important to an organization’s productivity.   Each project has a different role, scope and goal for the organization (although in many poorly managed portfolios it is sometimes unclear to see how some of them fit.)   Each project requires different levels of staffing, resources and is on a different timeline.  It is because of these differences that one should be aware of typical issues and requirements associated with managing each project type.

Do you know the mix of your project types?

My goal in this article is to provide a simple tool for mapping out your project types.  To facilitate this discussion I pulled out a great little tool.   It is a simple 2×2.  In fact, a simple 2×2 is one of the best first steps for so many processes.  This 2×2 will help you define the primary types of your development projects.  It is easy to do and does not take long.  It is also discussed in greater detail in the classic book by Wheelwright and Clark,  Revolutionizing Product Development, © 1992.

2x2 types of projectsLet’s begin.  A number of different dimensions could be used to classify your organization’s projects; however a particularly useful way to characterize projects is to use the dimensions of the “extent of change” the project represents.  Consider the types of change that projects typically involve.  One type of change is the extent of the product change.  Another is the extent of the process change.  Plot your projects on this type of grid to get a better understanding of the mix of project types.  You can use the size of the bubble to communicate any number of attributes, such as net present value (NPV), capital expense, annualized sales or income etc.

Once you have a plot of the mix of projects and where they are on a scale of change to current products and processes,  they can be classified into three types.  The three types of projects are derivatives, platform changes and radical breakthroughs.  Classification of project types in this way may be important to because it clarifies thinking, planning, staffing, and providing a framework to aggregate projects into an overall plan since each project will need a different level of staffing and resource commitment.  The project types also help point to the appropriate product and process maps that will be helpful to guide progress over time.

types of projects 2What are the benefits of classifying projects by type? 

Knowing the difference between a platform change and a product derivative helps plan for the differences in front end planning required for a platform change.  In a platform project there is a bundling of a number of improvements into a new system to provide the solution across a range of users or customer groups.  In contrast, the derivative project may be in response to targeted requirements from a single subset of users or customers.  By nature, the platform project represents more change and requires more activity, creativity, insight and development at the front end to be sure that the platform actually meets the critical to quality attributes and customer requirements across the board.

It is also recognized that it is more challenging to converge on a solution for a platform project and the final product specs may be more complex that the previous solution.  In a derivative project many of the issues have been already closed or are limited by earlier platform decisions.  In addition, platform projects require deeper cross-functional involvement.   Another consideration is that projects initiated to obtain radical breakthroughs often have a much longer period of upfront investment in research and development, and are much further out on the horizon.  Skills and tools in advanced development are often required for radical innovation and breakthroughs, and the team assigned is often a separate part of the organization from those managing the current products and platforms.

In order to allocate resources and provide sustainable growth, an organization needs to understand the mix of projects as it relates to product lifecycles and industry maturity.  The timing of product derivatives, platform introductions and innovative breakthroughs are all important to the long term health of the business.  It is also important to know the target mix of projects for executing a strategic plan within a preset period of time (usually is 3 -5 years for most organizations.)  Note that radical breakthroughs may take as long as, or longer than, 10 years to commercialize. Though many of these strategic decisions are complex and rely heavily on data, skills, and tools used by a qualified team of professionals leading the organization, the complexity can be broken down into easy-to-understand components and built back up into a successful aggregate plan.

Using a simple tool such as a plot of your project types is a simple way to start on the road to managing a portfolio of products and projects.

Image credit: smartrecruiters.com, graphics credits: insightovation.com, resources: Wheelwright & Clark’s Revolutionizing Product Development


Where is your sweet spot? 5 steps to creating your matrix of specialization.

targetRecently, two highly talented professionals posed a similar question in discussions of very different issues.  The first was a marketing professional starting a professional blog, the second a C-suite executive opening his new consulting company.  The question in its simplest form is, “Where should I focus?”

When you are multitalented and have a resume full of successful enterprises, projects, and experience, how do you decide where you want to put your attention?  (Let’s leave money out of the discussion at this point; you can use it as a measure to help you prioritize further down the line.)

The first question I asked both was, “Where is your sweet spot?”   After the raised eyebrows relaxed, we explored this relevant question.  At first due to the seemingly limitless potential of both individuals, neither knew exactly how to answer.   To help guide their thinking I walked them through creating a personal “matrix of specialization”.     It is one way to look at the options of where to focus your professional efforts in a more organized way.  The good news is that it is very easy to do.

Here are the five steps of creating a matrix of specialization.Level of specialization

  1. Answer two initial questions.  Are you a generalist or specialist in your profession(s) or life roles?  Are the industries in which you have worked general or highly specialized?
  2. Make a general 2X2 grid to map out the answers.  Map your industry focus across left to right (general and specialized) against skills from bottom to top (general to specialized.)
  3. Expand the 2X2 detail to the next level of granularity.  All industries are listed left to right (still using a progression of general to highly specialized industries) and all specific skill sets are listed bottom to top (general to specialized skills).
  4. Plot education, training and experience within skill sets and plot hobbies, past-times and personal and recreational pursuits or interests along the industry access.
  5. Add color coding, green to visually label industries or skills that are exciting, interesting and enjoyable, or conversely, red to those be avoided as uninteresting, miserable or frustrating etc.

A visual picture of your sweet spot should start to emerge.

Matix of Specialization

The benefits to a focused approach to your sweet spot are many.  You can leverage this self-knowledge in any professional communication in which you engage.  It completes the sentence, “My focus is…”  in your elevator pitch.  It can be the start of or fine tuning of your personal brand.  You can use it as a consistent foundation for your business, marketing or social media strategy.  Knowing your sweet spot can help you focus your professional resume.

Self-knowledge is not enough, however.  You must be disciplined in your application of this self-knowledge and know when you are straying too far from your sweet spot.  Personal branding is most effective when it is consistent.

What if you don’t have the skills or industry experience you want?  You don’t like your sweet spot, what then?  Reverse map it.  What are the general and specific skills you need to get to the place you want to be?  What are the general or highly specialized industries in which you want to participate?  Next, set a path forward for the training and experience necessary to own a different spot on the matrix of specialization.

My two friends completed a draft of their matrix within the hour and both set off confidently to claim the spot that had been uniquely theirs all along.

Karen Dworaczyk is a marketing professional who focuses on people, product and portfolio productivity.

picture credit: artsjournel.com, diagram credits:  INSIGHTOVATION.com

The “Technical Dog” and other product failure scenarios

robotdogNew product development (NPD) is a complex process with many moving parts.  Products fail when one or more parts of the process breakdown, are skipped, ignored, or not thoroughly and skillfully completed.   The results of failure are wasted time, resources and money.  It is often catastrophic and risks the business survival.

On the verge of a technical breakthrough, teams may work the stages of the NPD process in parallel to reduce the elapsed project time to market.  That is, they continue to work cross functionally as if the technical problem is solved and hope that it will be, when the commercialization phase is underway.  (Hope is not a strategy.) When the solution is not quite ready for prime time, but the rest of the organization is, a decision is made to launch anyway and the plan becomes a  “phase in” of the final fix when it is ready, potentially in the next generation of the product life cycle.  The result of this flawed practice is often what can be labeled a “technical dog”.  The product simply does not work and falls short of the performance requirements articulated in the concept, design and launch phases.  Examples of “bad dogs” litter junk yards across the country.  The Adam computer, the disc camera, and Windows Vista are all technical dogs that failed.  Apple maps may be another example for case history.

The good news is by studying the history of product failure we can learn to avoid making the same mistakes and improve our chance of success.

There are several common scenarios (adapted from Robert G Cooper’s Winning at New Products)  that lead to product failure.

  1. The better mouse trap no one wants
  2. The “me too”
  3. Competitive sabotage
  4. The technical dog
  5. Trying to sell a Cadillac to a Ford buyer
  6. Magic, ignorance, and wishful thinking

Let’s look at some other products failures that fall into these scenarios.

The better mouse trap

The new product development machine is always looking for the better mouse trap.  This is often a difficult challenge.  There is a constant churn of these attempts and product lifecycles are getting shorter and shorter.  The proliferation of kitchen and personal care appliances are examples of categories that have hundreds of attempts to build the better mousetrap.  Our cupboards are full of bread makers, juicers, hand mixers, stand mixers, wand mixers, food processers, blenders, coffee makers, rice cookers, crockpots, toasters, toaster ovens, dehydrators, ice cream makers, popcorn makers, pasta makers, hair curlers, hair straighteners, hair dryers, exfoliators, shavers, razors, massagers, magnifying mirrors, special lights, natural lights, you get the idea. I could go on and on, ad infinitum.  The fad dies, and so does the product since it was not the solution to a relevant need in the first place.

The “me too”

Zune_8GB In the “me too” category, the Zune is a good example.  First released in November 2006, the Zune was Microsoft’s “me too” answer to the iPod. It had some unique features that the iPod lacked and could share music from player to player.  Despite an expensive marketing effort by Microsoft, the Zune never really achieved success.

It was only able to achieve a low double-digit market share while the iPod took enjoyed about 65% share. In an SEC filing, Microsoft disclosed that the Zune revenues declined 54% in a quarter that the iPod revenues increased by 3%.  Zune devices were discontinued in 2011.

The Zune lacked style and the simplicity of Apple’s interface. Also, the Zune could not be used with Apple’s iTunes program which was well entrenched.  Apple had an integrated music experience and there were strong disincentives to move to another platform.  Even Microsoft could not overcome these barriers.

Competitive sabotage

Competitive sabotage today is often accomplished through pay-per-click (PPC) ads and fake online reviews.   Businesses are just beginning to understand the impact of this type of offense against their new product commercialization efforts and it deserves a much more detailed discussion in a future report.

Trying to sell a Cadillac when a Ford will do

It is the obsession of many down market brands to transform themselves into higher end equities.  Building and selling a Cadillac to your Ford customers is a traditional trade-up strategy delusion.  Brand differentiation is structural component to every category.  K-Mart, Walmart, Sears and JC Penney have tried, over and over again, to overcome their down market brand.  It has not yet worked for any of them.

Magic, ignorance, and wishful thinking

Lastly, successful commercialization of new products and services rarely happens with wishful thinking and ignorance.  It takes information, skills and tools.  There is a process and work to be done.  It is not magic.  It’s NPD.

Picture credits:  Sony’s interactive robot dog, Microsoft’s Zune.

Beware! Optimistic Product Manager Serving “Kool-aid®”.

A marketing friend recently blogged about Sr. Management relying on a product manager’s overly optimistic PowerPoint summary of the research on a concept for which new product development was based, instead of a thorough analysis and review of the objective data.  Of course the product failed and left management scratching their heads.  A post mortem review revealed the serious misinterpretation of the data by the product manager and over-stated forecast of market needs and acceptance.  During the new product development (NPD) process, management drank the proverbial “Kool-Aid®”.  This is common.  In fact, inadequate market analysis is actually a leading cause (a full 45%) of product failure according to Robert G Cooper, in the now classic book, Winning at New Products.  Companies simply fail to do their homework in identifying the needs of the marketplace, including the customer, the user, the retailer and ignore the early signs of competitive activity and strength.

Still, in addition to lack of thoroughness of the market analysis, Cooper adapted Hopkins and Bailey’s “New Product Pressures”, to summarize the other causes for product failure including,

  1. Product problems and defects (29%)
  2. Lack of effective marketing efforts (25%)
  3. Higher cost than anticipated (19%)
  4. Competitive strength or reaction (17%)
  5. Poor timing of the introduction (14%)
  6. Technical or production problems (12%)

It is not only the overly optimistic product manager that can steer a new product off course.  The well-intentioned engineering or R&D group can design new products in a vacuum with insufficient marketing input and knowledge of the consumer, customer or market needs and wants.

mouseThis is the case in building a better mouse trap that nobody wants.  Additionally, it may simply be that the mouse is not the market’s problem!  The supply chain team can contribute to new product failures by overestimating costs and logistics, impairing a strong concept’s development or underestimating costs thus affecting financial results.  In this case the better mouse trap is too expensive to build or is too expensive and not worth the price.

New product development is a complex process.  It requires information, tools and skills to successfully bring new products to market.  By examining new product failures, a path to avoid common causes can be established.  Challenge your team to question the thoroughness of their work in these areas and reduce the risk of failure.

(picture credits: Kool-aid is a registered TM of Kraft, mouse from blogs.mcgill.ca)