Team stuff

Thinking about our team not as a basketball team, where everyone works together towards the same goal, but instead as a golf teams, where everyone works towards their individual goals, has definitely helped me focus my approach to managing the team. Our product management team are definitely golfers. It makes the management more complex, but I think it’s a better approach than trying to bring everyone together as I had previously thought. Also, regardless of whether the team are basketball players or golfers they are all playing the infinite game, which I think is a more fundamental context to grasp than

I’m recruiting another Product Manager to the team. I have eight interviews set up for next week and I’ve re-written the usual interview questions to be more suited to finding the kind of person we need. I think recruitment so hard to do well, and affects people’s lives so much. I wish I had more time or could approach it in a different way, but I’m pretty constrained from a number of directions. Given the big change in how we work that is coming soon, it makes recruiting the right person even more difficult as I only have the vaguest of ideas about what that person will be doing a year from now. However, I know we need to up-skill the whole team so I should look for someone who can bring in previous experience, but at the same time that person is going to be operating in a particular culture, so I’m not sure if my ‘recruit for weirdness not cultural fit’ stance might set up that person to have a harder time of it than someone who fits the status quo.

I’ve been working with the PM’s on achieving their objectives for this year, writing their career development plans, and identifying training needs. I’m going to arrange some product training for the entire team (14 of us) so that we can all start to get on the same level of understanding about how to be a product manager. The PM’s objectives are interesting. There are a few that are about increasing their influence and standing within the organisation, which I get the value of, but I’m not sure they have fully grasped how their role is going to change over the next few years and that they need to start getting themselves ready for it now. Selling a future that looks nothing like now is something I work on with them.

Data, data everywhere

I’m starting to understand the data structure behind Standards. It’s an essential part of how our current products work and what we want to build in the future. We’re pretty data heavy in how we ingest Standards data but not so much at the output end. It’s frustrating that we think of processing and providing data as a value-adding pipeline, and that is because we still think of a Standard as a commoditized object (a document), which of course makes no sense in the twenty-first century.

The other, and more immediate, issue with our data is it’s variety. I’ve previously thought that there are two options for dealing with the varieties of data quality and quantity: standardize it so that every Standard is raised to a certain level, or get good at handling the variations what data is available for a Standard. However, given our plans for the next few years, there might be a third way.

Standards have a weird supply and demand relationship that means of the hundreds of thousands of Standards that are produced only a few hundred are actually used by businesses. Given this, our approach to data could be to use what we have and focus on making it more valuable for customers. So, ignore the variety and the quality and quantity issues and set the bar low enough that we are able to provide the information our customers want in a way they want it. This turns around our focus to be more where it should be; on understanding and providing value to customers rather than starting with what we can or can’t do.

Pitching our products

I’ve been thinking about how we talk about the products we manage, what is the right way to communicate to our colleagues about them, how we would ‘sell’ them. I think it’s really important to be able to speak clearly and intelligently about why our products exist, what value they bring, and where they sit in the market.

The elevator pitch for the Shop that I first came up with was, “BSI Shop provides businesses of all sizes, all across the globe, with immediate access to the most up to date standards information for them to achieve compliance, meet regulations, and improve their business.”

It is focused on two key differentiators for the Shop, that it shows the most up to date version of the Standards at that point in time, and that it offers immediate access, no waiting to to set a subscription account, etc. But it isn’t a very inspiring statement.

So then I began thinking about how we could write elevator pitch-type statements using story arch’s like Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s journey :

  • Who is the hero? How do we make the customer the hero of the journey, and how do we refer to them throughout the journey?
  • What challenge do they face? What is the call to adventure that starts them on their journey?
  • What triggers them to face it? What prompts them to start the journey, how do they feel about it?
  • What lesson do they need to learn to overcome the challenge? What temptations and challenges might their be along the way?
  • What does overcoming the challenge look like? What revelation do they need? What is success for our hero/customer?

I haven’t started writing this story for Shop yet, and this might be going a bit too far out for most of the people we’d talk to about our Products, but I think it’s an approach that could get us thinking more emotionally about our Products and focusing on what the customer gets out of using the product rather than what the product does.

Getting to that Aha moment

I’ve been doing a lot of work to bring the processes of the two teams to be more closely aligned, and getting everyone using Aha in a consistent way is a part of that. We’re almost set up and ready to present how we think we should be using it to the teams. Once we’re all agreed we’ll begin the harder task of actually getting everyone using Aha to record progress and create a shared knowledge-base about (I’d love to have the time to play with the Aha API and build a chatbot that can report on our work but I don’t think that’s likely).

A big driver for how we set up Aha is the reports we produce. Our way of reporting is a look back at the recent past. The reports are used to show progress via a notional run-rate, but really I think they are about justifying existence. They show outputs (work done) rather outcomes (customer value delivered), and I completely get why, but the reports provide questionable value themselves as I don’t think they help make decisions. I think reporting could be different. I think it could be a glimpse at the future (however uncertain) and that would be a far more useful report. If we could report on market trends, competitor and customer behaviour, and our responses, then we might be able to have better direction setting, faster course correction, and a forwards-looking mindset.

Ready player one

We’ve identified a changing need from a segment of our customers and with it an opportunity to play a larger part in an important market. There are a number of competitors, and we have a number of ways of providing an offering in the space, so our challenge is to come up with a strategy that doesn’t compete with ourselves, but can compete against more mature and more focused competitors.

This is a big deal for the product team. It’s exactly the kind of work we should be doing; identifying and responding to changing customer needs and markets, but I don’t think we’re in a strong enough position to do so effectively yet. So, we can either be bold and run the risk of a large public failure, be timid and do nothing knowing we will soon be forced out of the market, or we can be more political and use this to show what we could have done if we were properly resourced. The first step is deciding how to align internal and external strategy around this opportunity, and that is a huge challenge in itself.

All of this happened in the last half of Friday and turned a rather ordinary week into a complex bombshell that set my mind reeling and trying to figure out how to handle it.

Yes, I know I’m not funny

I thought of a joke: What do you call a colander that is good at hiding? Elu-sieve

But no one found it funny…