What Product Doctor did in 2017…

I spent the largest part of 2017 in corporate-land working with different levels of the organisation to embed the decision making structures, behaviours, processes and leadership required to enable teams on the ground to embed a more “lean” practice.

It can be suicidal to coach teams on the ground to adopt lean innovation practice without having the decision making structures further up in the organisation to support them – attrition is the most likely outcome. 

Here you are adopting best practice identifying risky assumptions; designing experiments to gather evidence to reduce those risks and asking for small amounts of incremental investment to do that…but the budget pot is not there – there is no money assigned to test out hypotheses.  Solving this problem requires a commitment from high to set aside some money for “innovation” or “experimentation” or “early stage ideas”; allowance for the line in the annual budget and commitment from Finance to know how to administer and account for it.

Imagine that you are working on a new idea or an improvement plan to an existing product only to find out after 6 months of effort that it is no longer “on strategy”.  A well communicated sharp strategic focus is one of the most important things that leadership can provide then innovating teams will know which trees to bark up and which ones to leave alone. I remember myself being set a task to “innovate” back in my corporate mobile operator days – it was 2004 (4 years before Apple launched their app store) and after lots of customer observation and qualitative insight (of course!) I came up with two ideas: (1) The concept of the mobile as the remote control and (2) The disappearing picture message – only to be told that they were not “on strategy”. Guess what – that was the trigger for me to leave!

Certainly gratifying was working with decision making cross functional management teams on asking the right questions at the right time to the right people to enable efficient, transparent and effective decision making. The principles of lean innovation are rarely under question (after the right level of debate!) and no one really argues with taking the “product lifecycle” approach to identify what to do / and not to do at each stage. Of course each business unit needs help to apply models and toolkits practically to their particular products and there are process changes and supporting documents that need to be in place to estabish a standard approach in a way that are not required in small businesses.

Through coaching a senior propositions manager at Pearson I also got the joy of winning a classic piece of Product Doctor qualitative research where I carried out some value proposition based qualitative insight work with both parents and children. The respondents were recruited in particular around their levels of drive to do well at school / college.  Without giving away anything about the innovative product in question of course, here are a few insights that I enjoyed discovering:

(1) These “driven” students are very aware of what distracts them and many will switch off their phones / move them into a non distract mode / give them to parents to look after when they have homework / revision to get through

(2) Many referenced that they find they can concentrate better with online /  mobile study and revision guides (as long as social media notifications etc are turned off) – they find that looking at screens can really focus them

(3) Social elements are really important for many of them – learning / revising with friends; creating good relationships with teachers and equally, if these are not good relationships it can negatively effect their study

(4) Parents of these particularly “driven” GCSE age teens are really listening to them – trying to let them make their own decisions

My workshops for UCL continued with startups in their Hatchery, under-grads, post-grads, researchers and staff. My trilogy of workshops is (a) Developing Value Propositions; (b) Getting off the Starting Block (using business model canvas); (c) Working with Risky Assumptions (defining experiments to gather evidence and my DIY User Research Toolkits).

I was delighted to extend my engagement with Sussex University Physics PhDs to Sepnet – the South East Physics Network, a consortium of physics departments in nine universities (Herfordshire, Kent, The Open University, Portsmouth, Queen Mary, Royal Holloway, Southampton, Surrey and Sussex. It’s incredibly stimulating working with such bright brains who have been solving physics based challenges, helping them discover commercial and sustainable models for their work.

2018 is already high energy – I am coaching a private company; my series at UCL has started; my series at Sepnet is about to start and I am getting ready to deliver the first of my new style “DIY User Research training programs” for a corporate client. As always, the participants will have the space to work on their own products throughout and the new element for 2018 is that when the series of four workshops is over, they will be presented with their very own bespoked “DIY User Research Manual” which will contain all the workshop guidance and toolkits plus the real examples they worked on during the sessions.

Continuing to love the diversity in my work, I always leave time for new projects – so do get in touch if you get a calling!

Thanks to great clients throughout 2017, whose testimonials you can read here. 


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