Got Products? – now create experiences!

Male hiker on mountainIt is becoming widely recognised that when people buy products or services they are really buying an experience. What people buy has attributes that are associated with functional consequences that have psychological (emotional) consequences that are ultimately tied to underlying personal values [Gutman, Reynolds and Olsen]. In short that’s an experience either anticipated or realised. Experiences may be intrinsic in either a product or a service but, more often, the best experiences will arise from a combination of both.

So, if you are a provider of either a pure product or service then there is an opportunity to improve the overall experience for your customers by adding the missing half of the equation. In this article I will be focusing on value-add services for products. If there is sufficient interest I might write an extension piece to consider productising services. In either case, the main goal is to take a holistic view of the customer journey and the touch-points along it. These all provide opportunities for learning and potential improvement.

“To understand the man, you must first walk a mile in his moccasin.” – Native American proverb

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Getting Lean – it’s about more than just waste

Zen, bamboo, flowing waterLean is often regarded as simply targeting cost reduction through the elimination of waste. A quick-win approach may focus on eradicating the prime culprits in a piecemeal fashion at the tactical or, often, operational level. However, this was not the original intent and the need to regain a more strategic perspective seems obvious. For a more impactful and sustainable result a broader systems thinking approach should be adopted; one that integrates Lean principles with those of project, program and change management.

“Improvement usually means doing something that we have never done before.” – Shiego Shingo

 It’s not simply about eliminating waste (muda); that’s just an easy place to start. Overburdening (muri) people, systems and equipment is an important consideration since it correlates with issues in health, safety, quality and reliability. This is where many of the frustrations and problems associated with the workplace reside. Standardising outputs and processes can help reduce the flow of material and information to optimum levels but must be supported by systems and infrastructure. Variability (mura) in flow results in a system being designed to accommodate the peaks and, therefore, introduces waste when operating below this level. This is usually countered by implementing a pull-based ‘just-in-time’ system. However, whilst it is desirable to design a system for regular, predictable workflow this may be quite difficult outside of a manufacturing environment. Regardless, it should be easy to see that all three ‘M’s (muda, muri and mura) are interconnected and need to be treated holistically.

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Virtual Teams – getting them to gel

Two RobotsWith an even-increasing number of telecommuters and part-time workers operating in a growing global market place and with organisations and alliances becoming ever more geographically dispersed, working with or within virtual teams is becoming increasingly commonplace.

Recently I was involved in a Facebook debate where a friend had asked for some advice about keeping up morale, focus and momentum in a dispersed workforce that currently constitutes her entire business. I thought it might be interesting to elaborate on my initial short-form response and additionally incorporate a few of the other views that surfaced in that discussion.

Managing teams that are geographically dispersed and, therefore, primarily dependent on electronic means of communication has many challenges but most of these seem to stem from a single core issue – enabling effective collaboration. In this article I will take a quick look at a few critical areas that need to be addressed for your virtual team to gel.

“The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.” – Babe Ruth (Baseball Hall of Fame)

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Beyond the T-Shape – into the cave

25775188_mlHiring managers can be prone to think vertically when trying to fill a capability gap. They think in terms of specialist skills and alignment with existing or hypothesised silos. Despite a common requirement to collaborate and operate in a cross-disciplinary fashion, historically, a search for these important skills and behaviours has been given less attention than it deserves.

About ten years ago, Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, resurrected the notion of the T-shaped person and embedded it into IDEO’s recruiting and talent retention culture. He asserts that innovation needs T-shaped people and I agree with his sentiment although I also feel that it is a bit more complicated than that.

The T-shape model has two parts and refers to two important characteristics. The vertical line relates to depth of expertise, whilst the horizontal line relates to collaborative and integrative behaviours. The model assumes a two-dimensional construct where there is only one domain of expertise, only one vertical line.

My view is that it might be more useful to consider multiple levels of expertise that are developed in different domains to varying degrees of depth at different times and with varying longevity or relevance. This would yield a 3D model consisting of a time-series of T-shapes, of potentially different sizes, that would create a kind of stalactite effect.

“If there is one word that makes creative people different from others, it is the word complexity. Instead of being an individual, they are a multitude.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

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Smarter Devices, Dumber Users

14119236_mlAnticipatory computing – the buzz is growing louder but how much do we need it? Despite the ubiquitous mobile device and it’s plethora of tools for building to-do lists, recording memos, managing our appointments and alerting us about all manner of anniversaries, there still seems to be an emerging market for helping us remember even less ourselves.

Thankfully, in addition to that pressing concern, there are more meaningful ways in which predictive computing is being used in mobile devices. Primarily, these tools tend to focus on helping us manage our ever-complex, time-poor lives by personalizing our information streams and thereby uncluttering the process of finding that most relevant of data morsels. In this article I’ll take a quick poke around to see what’s been happening in this space.

 “It is one thing to use computers as a tool, quite another to let them do your thinking for you.” – Tom Clancy

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Performance Management – Coach or Counsel?

13283719_mlOne of the key responsibilities of both managers and leaders is to encourage and enable peak performance in our teams. From time to time the journey towards this goal will undoubtedly founder upon the rocks of incompetence and low commitment. When this happens the problem is quite likely to be rooted in matters of alignment, accountability and the supporting ecosystem. However, there will often be times when an individual will benefit from, or simply need, focused personal, coaching or counseling. Tackling this early is critical. Doing it right even more so.

“The test of an organisation is not genius. It is its capacity to make common people achieve uncommon performance.” – Peter Drucker

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Commercialisation – consider all the angles

30588286_mlThere are a number of ways to approach commercialisation. Personally, I am repeatedly drawn to the utility of the Human Centred Design [HCD] drivers of Desirability, Viability and Feasibility. In my mind this model succinctly underpins much of the innovation process and consequently provides an excellent platform for thinking about commercialisation. I’ve mentioned before that the single most important takeaway from the Lean Startup movement ought to be that the business as a whole needs to be modelled, prototyped, iterated and validated. This concept dovetails nicely with the HCD framework above since both the Lean Canvas and its progenitor, the Business Model Canvas, focus on three main areas that ostensibly address each of these three overarching themes.

“Commercialisation is about more than just turning Intellectual Property into products. It’s about creating markets. Unless companies embrace the broader view… they are limiting their opportunities” – Grant Steinberg, Entrepreneur

When it comes to developing a commericalisation strategy there is often an overwhelming array of things to consider and precious little time or resources available with which to do so. Moreover, it is not uncommon to slip into the trap of giving undue bias to one of the guiding themes at the expense of the other two.

It can help, therefore, to reflect on the simple frameworks mentioned above and distil from them the key questions that must be answered. Standing on the shoulders of giants, I have tried to do that here and the material presented can serve as a useful checklist to make sure you address the most critical considerations up front.

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Augmenting Your Reality

31970399_mlIt’s been a while since I’ve commented on emerging technology so this week I thought I’d take a quick look at where we are with augmented reality (AR) and, in particular, iBeacon’s role in this space. There are many opinions out there addressing the benefits of location-based information and/or immersive experiences. However, a recurring theme seems to be the overwhelming reluctance to don a pair of glasses or goggles just to be transported to another world however augmented it may be. That said, there are plenty of people that believe AR will be transformational.

“When you think of any aspect of life or work, augmented reality is going to change how we do it.” – Ori Inbar, Augmented Reality.ORG

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Resilience – get some

17708483_mlLast week I attended a 1-day conference themed around the idea of Resilience. While we were casually sipping our morning coffee, one of the first speakers asked the audience to raise a hand if they knew someone who had experienced depression – a forest of hands shot into the air – pretty much everyone in the packed conference hall. That surprised me and so did many of the statistics that followed. So, here, I will present a snapshot of what was discussed to help raise awareness a little. I will also distil some of the key recommendations to help you and those you care about build some resilience ahead of time.

In the Australian workplace only 24% are actually engaged whilst 60% are not engaged and 16% are actively disengaged. Moreover, 12% report being highly stressed every day. Apparently, 45% of Australians will have a mental health issue in their lifetime and one in five will actually be experiencing a mental health issue at any given time. Look around you. Worryingly, 86% of us prefer to suffer in silence.

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Commercialisation – don’t screw up

28864087_mlIn various blogs and news-feeds recently, both Blackbird Ventures and Sydney Seed Fund have estimated that, of the perhaps 1000+ startups formed this year in Australia, only 10% are attracting external funding and the percentage is much lower for the very early stages entrants. Part of the reason for these figures seems to be attributable to the growth in the number of people giving entrepreneurialism a shot whilst at the same time failing to adopt any kind of robust commercialisation process. 

“There’s really nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself” – JS Bach

As a musician, this quote makes me smile. I recognise that having a framework is not enough but I do believe that not using one at all is a recipe for disaster.

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