Tag Archives: tactics

From Vision to Product (Part 1)

“Define the vision, own the strategy, ship great products” — these are perhaps some of the most commonly uttered phrases in any product management (PM) job description. While they capture much of the essence of what PM entails, those of us who are less familiar with PM as a discipline may find words such as “vision” or “strategy” a bit abstract.

So what is a product vision?

When one Googles around for “product vision,” definitions pop up in various sizes and flavors. To thoroughly understand the idea of a vision, it is important to also understand two other concepts: strategy and tactics.

Here is how I would explain these concepts to a product newcomer:

  • Vision: the goal you’re trying to achieve
  • Strategy: doing the right things toward achieving this goal
  • Tactics: doing these things right

Illustrating via an Analogy

Let’s use an analogy. Suppose I would like to plan an exciting Christmas getaway with my girlfriend this year. I’ve often heard from friends about how Strasbourg turns into a magical place with its elaborate Christmas market. So I begin planning a trip from Heidelberg to Strasbourg by pulling up Google Maps. After a quick dance with the loading spinner, Google Maps presents many options for how to get from Heidelberg to Strasbourg, including going via car, transit or even bicycle. Each transportation mode comes with several routes that I could take.

This user interface captures the essence of “vision” and “strategy” very well. In this case, I have the vision of “an exciting Christmas getaway in Strasbourg,” and Google Maps helps me understand the various strategies I could employ to get there (i.e., mode of transport and route). Just like in the realm of products, there are often several different routes that one could take to arrive at a single destination.

We can continue expanding on this analogy by choosing a transportation mode, then selecting one of the routes. At this point, the user interface outlines detailed turn-by-turn
directions for the route that I have selected. These steps represent the tactical features or milestones that I must achieve to stay on course with the selected strategy: to follow a route that Google Maps recommends for driving from Heidelberg to Strasbourg, I need to carefully follow each turn that it prescribes. Another way tactics play into this analogy could be ways to prepare for the trip so as to minimize the need to stop along the way, such as filling up the gas tank before leaving or bringing lunch. The message here is simple: to properly execute against a product strategy, we need to use the right tactics and make sure they add up to something bigger.

Six Reasons for Having a Product Vision

Now that we have discussed what product visions are at a high level, I hope you understand why they are so important. For those who are still skeptical, there are many practical reasons why you should have a product vision. I will highlight six of my favorite reasons below:

1. Visions Are a Prerequisite for Change

In 1997, the late Steve Jobs narrated a famous TV commercial for Apple called “The Crazy Ones.” The spot ends with him saying: “…the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world… are the ones who do.”

This quote has always stuck with me because it captures the idea that innovation always starts with someone who believes he or she can create something and change the world. For me to have an amazing Christmas getaway in Strasbourg, I need to first have the idea of going on such a trip, and then believe enough in it to act on it. Similarly, to create a product that moves humanity forward, someone must first come up with an idea of how to do so and then act on it with conviction.

See also: How to Speed Up Product Development  

2. Visions Simplify Ideas

One of the school games that left the deepest impression on me was “Telephone,” where the teacher lined up all of the students in a single row and then whispered something into the ear of the first student. The teacher instructed this student to pass on the message by whispering into the ear of the next student. This process repeated until the last student in line received the message. It was always surprising how different the initial message was from what the last student reported.

This game taught me a simple yet important lesson at a young age: Communication is hard. It is especially difficult at scale, where complex ideas must be conveyed across many different teams and organizations. Within the context of a tech startup, how can we make sure that the vision our founders have in their heads is clearly understood by the entire company so that we can collectively execute toward this common end goal?

This is where the product vision comes in — as a team, it is crucial for us to develop a clear and concise vision that conveys the essence of our shared end goal. We should then regularly use this vision in our communication to maximize the chances of everyone understanding the same version of the vision. Each word in the vision statement should serve a specific function toward guiding the team, rather than needlessly adding complexity or further diluting the message. If we do this well, any single team member should be able to articulate an understanding of the vision that matches what the founders had in mind when they founded the company.

3. Visions Align Groups

As companies grow, the responsibilities of team members tend to become increasingly specialized. On a day-to-day basis, this means that people will spend most of their time working on a specific part of the vision and become an expert in that area. While this phenomenon is an important part of organizational evolution, it is important that all team members retain an understanding of how their part fits into the overall collective goal. A well-crafted and clearly communicated product vision can serve as an important tool for aligning groups and empowering team members to make better decisions independently.

4. Visions Unlock Collective Imagination

Different people can have varying perspectives of the same reality. Because of this, a product vision is often the single most empowering tool you can give your team. Given the same goal, team members may have a slightly different view on it, enabling them to use their own imagination to work toward it in a slightly different way. Thus, a well-articulated product vision can be the key that unlocks the maximum potential of your team. When this is done effectively, the collective intelligence of the group will always outperform any individual person regardless of how smart that person may be.

5. Visions Help Distinguish “Motion” From “Progress”

The product vision is the goal of our journey, so it is naturally the single most valuable reference point for differentiating motion from progress. If we ride a horse with our eyes closed, it would be difficult to tell whether we are getting closer to our final destination or not. Conversely, if we know where we want to go and do a pretty good job of keeping our eyes on the prize throughout the trip, we will have a much better idea of whether we’re getting closer with each milestone that we achieve.

6. Visions Support Effective Prioritization

Similar to #5 above, a product vision provides a quick and simple way to articulate tradeoffs between ideas and make sure we are focusing on the things with the most impact for our customers. The vision helps articulate the amount of “user value” that any given project delivers because everything we do should slightly improve the status quo and move the world closer to the new reality that we’re trying to create.

I hope you’re now convinced and eager to start creating a product vision of your own. The next section discusses some tips for how to go about doing so.

How do I create a product vision?

Vision is about telling a story. When I lived in Seattle, I used to attend this wonderful meetup called “Fresh Ground Stories” hosted by a man named Paul Currington. It occurs monthly
and operates like an open mic specifically for storytelling. Thirty minutes before the event begins, anyone can put his or her name into a box and sign up to tell a story as long as the stories are real and about the individual themselves. I once signed up to tell a story; I was very nervous, so I asked Paul for some advice. He smiled, then calmly said: “Always know your last line before you begin.”

As I continued working in product over the years, I’ve found this advice very helpful for articulating product visions. Within the context of storytelling, your last line is your goal. It is how you want to leave the world when you are done. For product, your vision is what you ultimately want to achieve. It is the summary of how you envision the world looking when you have finished what you’re creating.

At this point, we get into some territory that can be tricky to explain because there isn’t really a “right answer” for how to go about coming up with great product visions. There isn’t a checklist of specific tasks to complete that will ensure you have a 100% success rate. Similar to telling a story or writing a novel, product visions can require lots of imagination and creativity, and inspiration for doing so can come from anywhere.

See also: A Vision for 2028, Powered by Telematics  

Sources of Inspiration

There are two primary buckets: intrinsic and extrinsic.

Intrinsic

Intrinsic inspiration comes from within:  ideas and feelings that I notice within myself, which I then try to tie into the product that I am working on. Here are some examples:

  • “Imagine a world where…”: A vision can be as simple as seeing what comes out when you try to finish the sentence.
  • Dissatisfaction with the current world: When was the last time you felt like something about the world just could be better? What didn’t feel right about it? How would you make it better if you had a magic wand?
  • Intuition and gut feeling: Sometimes we just have a feeling that something is off and could be improved. Explore these feelings, and try to get to the bottom of them.

Extrinsic

Extrinsic inspiration comes from surroundings: observations about the world that could inform the next step in an ever-evolving society. Some examples are:

  • People around you: When was the last time someone you know said something smart? How might you expand on those ideas and integrate them into your product?
  • Gaps in existing products: What does the competition look like? Are there any customer segments that are underserved?
  • Trends from other industries: Are there other industries that are going through similar changes? For instance, how might we compare and contrast insurtech with fintech and e-commerce?
  • History of the world: Are there past events that vaguely resemble what’s happening in your product area? For example, what parallels can you draw between the rise of manufacturing and the rise of automation?
  • Random person on the street: Basically, extrinsic inspiration can come from anywhere. Perhaps the most important thing is that we pay attention and take time to reflect a bit when we find something interesting.

Giving It a Shot

Armed with the tips from above, perhaps you are ready to create your own product vision now. If you feel comfortable, please share your visions in the comments section; I would love to see what kind of great ideas you have, let’s have a discussion.

5 Questions That Regulators Must Ask

Fast growth and disruptive strategies make the likes of Uber, Airbnb and Lending Club a vanguard of young, fundamentally digital companies that are changing the way people travel, save, learn, eat, pay, lend—and more. Typically positioned as alternatives, they offer, among other things, financial services without being banks, car services without being taxi companies and somewhere to stay without being hotels.

In other words, the companies don’t play by established industry rules. And that’s the reason regulators and courts in a number of countries struggle to make sense of the changed industry ecosystems they oversee as they try to determine whether to permit or prohibit these digital disruptors. We believe the choice doesn’t have to be black or white: Regulators will want to enable the potential of these digitally contestable markets to deliver efficiency and innovation, while minimizing risks for consumers and the burden of adjustment for incumbents. The question is, how should they approach this difficult task?

The entrepreneurs who create digitally disruptive companies are routinely guided by a number of related strategic questions. We believe oversight bodies can use similar questions to arrive at appropriate regulatory responses. Here we suggest five:

1. How can we better serve customers’ needs and wants?

Many of the new digital business models work by putting underemployed talents or assets—like spare rooms or underutilized cars—to productive use. These business models usually won’t fit into traditional industry categories, such as “hotels” or “taxis.” Consequently, to make sense of them, regulators should fully consider the perspective of the consumer, setting aside purely industry sector approaches and taking a market view—the market for overnight stays or for travelling within a city, for instance. This way, they can support the successful operation of the market as a whole, namely balancing the many different outcomes demanded by consumers, including price, quality, availability, choice and safety.

Doing so will enable regulators to make a sober and impartial assessment of a new player’s potential to improve or upset this balance. Ruling out new players from the start simply because they don’t fit an existing industry definition could deny consumers better or cheaper ways of fulfilling their needs and wants. Worse, a start-up whose activities fall outside the realm of regulation could decide to enter an unregulated “shadow” sector that could ultimately create even greater trouble for incumbents and consumers. The recent rise of the so-called shadow banking sector should give consumers and regulators alike pause for thought.
In practice, regulators may be constrained by existing laws; they can, however, start the conversation about how regulation will need to adapt.

2. Are we considering all the competition?

Within a digitally contestable market (for example, the market for payments) new entrants very often straddle multiple industries. A good example is Apple Pay, a new way of paying for things with an Apple device. It has the potential to reinvent in-store and mobile transactions, simultaneously disrupting the telecom, financial services and retail industries. The market for wearable biometric technology is another example, bringing together high-tech, mobile and healthcare services within accessories and apparel that needs to be demonstrably safe for personal use.

As digital markets run beyond industry boundaries, regulators in different industries will need to collaborate with one another to catch up. Collaboration between regulatory bodies, where appropriate, may be both necessary and desirable—not only to execute current responsibilities but also to create common frameworks that encourage businesses to invest in digitally contestable markets. This approach can drive growth and productivity for the economy as a whole.

3. Are we thinking globally?

Just as digital disruptors don’t conform to traditional industry definitions, neither do they confine their ambitions within national borders. Mobile apps can work in the same way the world over as long as there is unfettered Internet access, and providers want to back them with consistent services. Moreover, customer expectations exhibit a ratchet effect. If it’s possible to use a mobile app to arrange a ride in London, why not in any other city? Why should a consumer’s experience of VoIP services from the same provider vary from country to country?

The work of regulators will increasingly depend on international collaboration. National bodies should actively align their work programs to increase the evidence base, accelerate the uptake of “next practice” and coordinate regulatory responses where it makes sense to do so in the interests of consumers.

4. Where can we experiment?

Digital disruptors don’t just compete in existing markets—they explore, create, define and shape new markets. Take Postmates, a San Francisco startup launched in 2011 that has built its business model on the entire process involved in “getting things,” including queuing, purchasing and delivering. Consumers and businesses can use the company’s app to arrange for a “Postmate”—an individual with spare time and wheels—to buy and hand-deliver any item within a city in less than an hour for a distance-based fee starting at $5. Using technology to combine elements of the retail, courier, concierge and postal sectors, the company is opening up a market for integrated convenience services previously available only to the affluent. Postmates can now be found in 13 metropolitan areas in the U.S. and has inspired similar services in Europe. It is also developing a merchant program to enable local businesses to initiate deliveries to customers and establish virtual stores within the Postmates app.

Disruptive businesses don’t wait for market potential to be proved before they act—and neither should regulators. While regulators will always base their oversight activities on deliberative, comprehensive assessments, today they also need to become as agile as the new players to react quickly to events, or even anticipate them. Digital tools and techniques can help.
One example: A/B testing, frequently used by digital disruptors to run multiple fast experiments on small samples of their customer base. This enables them to refine and improve proposed changes to the online user experience—design, offerings, prices—before rolling them out in full. While taking care to secure the consent of participants, regulators could harness techniques like these to test regulatory adaptations. If a market’s participants innovate and succeed through speedy knowledge of what works and what doesn’t, why shouldn’t that market’s enabling framework benefit in the same way?

5. Do we know what’s around the corner?

Digitally contestable markets often catch regulators by surprise. The head of the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority called digital disruptors “a Schumpeterian gale” sweeping across the economy. To harness the power of this storm of creative destruction, regulators will have to do more than simply react to change. They also need to be prepared before markets are upended.
To prepare effectively, they should make renewed use of horizon-scanning activities to spot systemic risks and emerging trends. When postal agencies (and their regulators) were debating the competitive merits of “last-mile” delivery companies, did they really envisage the breadth of service integration that players like Postmates would provide? Regulatory agencies will also need to develop techniques that encompass new technologies, encourage innovative business models, and explore new and more effective policy tools.

digital

Getting Started

The level of uncertainty generated by digitally contestable markets is unprecedented. New market dynamics are rapidly altering the boundaries and methods of oversight. Regulators will need to build new capabilities if they are to ask and meaningfully answer the five critical questions. They can start in three areas:

1. Talent: They should recruit people with experience in startups, to acquire the range of skills and mindsets needed to cope with fast-changing markets. Agencies should also ensure they have employees who are well-acquainted with disruptive technologies, whether through their work or simply in daily life.

2. Technology: To inform and enhance decision making, regulators should become comfortable with employing digital technology, including the “SMAC” of social, mobile, analytics and cloud. In particular, they should make full use of the intelligent data collection tools available today, including consumer apps such as Field Agent, as well as the burgeoning Industrial Internet of Things. Their goal should be to improve decision making using an evidence-based and data-driven approach. Beyond that, big data analytics can help them more accurately predict changes in customer and regulatory demand.

3. Tactics: To better anticipate and meet regulatory challenges, there are some no-regret steps regulators can take. For example, they can undertake “social listening” via Twitter, LinkedIn and other conversation spaces; this will help them identify future market players and spot market trends. Regulators should also participate in industry “hackathon” events to learn about the challenges entrepreneurs and innovators are currently facing, and even employ their own open, problem-solving events—physical or digital—to understand current concerns and explore potential solutions.

Digital innovation hasn’t changed the objective of regulation: promoting consumer welfare. But how to do it—developing and applying rules that deliver efficient and equitable outcomes—has become more complex and difficult. In economies increasingly populated by digital disruptors, the first step for regulators is to begin to question, think and act like the companies they oversee.

This article was originally published in Outlook, Accenture’s online journal of high-performance business. It is available here

Read more about digitally contestable markets here and ecosystem collaboration here.

How to Make Your Numbers Jump

Do you want to know a secret? Want to know how to make your numbers almost jump right off the page? It’s a simple idea, really, but most insurance professionals don’t know it. When they find it out, they keep the idea under lock and key. But I’ve never been one to keep secrets, especially if they can help others get ahead in business.

So, are you ready? Here it is, the big secret: Make connections.

That's it. Just take the time to contact as many quality people as you can in a given week. Plant some seeds, as if in fertile ground. It really is that simple.

But remember, just as plants need time and nurturing to bear fruit, your potential sales leads can only become sales customers with the right mixture of time and effort on your part.

One of my favorite books is How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Sales by Frank Bettger. He provides a wealth of information and some extremely valuable insights. Here are a few that still offer a new look or inspiration every time I read them:

“You can’t collect your commission until you make the sale; you can’t make the sale ‘til you write the order; you can’t write the order ‘til you have an interview; and you can’t have an interview ‘til you make the call!”

As Bettger points out, very directly, it all begins with the call. Yes, sometimes you will be rejected, but other times you won’t be. You simply won’t know until you pick up the phone or send that email. Don’t think of the potential risk, which is really rather small. Rather, think of the potential reward.

Here’s another one of my favorites:

“Selling is the easiest job in the world if you work it hard — but the hardest job in the world if you try to work it easy.”

More than any other activity in the world, selling is about preparation and consistency. It takes effort and time to bring in potential clients; sometimes a good insurance professional will spend a month or two on one client, learning their needs, their wants, their various habits, all to make sure that the sales presentation and product will meet the client’s needs without question. A good insurance professional realizes that this business is not a get-rich-quick scheme. It’s about making money over the long term so that you and your family can be provided for.

So… once you have identified your target audience, and what tools you are going to use to connect, engage and communicate with your audience, you move on to your tactics, which determine how you are going to make meaningful connections.

Tactics has six parts:

1.   Approach. Approach is the most critical part of the entire process. The approach sets the stage for all future conversations by phone, email or otherwise. Always respect other people's time, and realize that you never know where you have caught them or what frame of mind they are in.

2.   Purpose. Remember this: The purpose of the call, tweet, email, voicemail is to keep the purpose of the call the purpose of the call. Confused people will not respond with action.

3.   Questions. Design questions to engage or guide your audience. Questions are the answer to the entire sales process. Think of questions like a piece of jigsaw puzzle. With each piece that you put together, the picture becomes clearer and clearer.

4.   Listening. In every conversation or connection, something is being revealed to you. How you respond will determine where the relationship goes from there.

5.   Objections. Working with objections is easy when you see things from another person's point of view. Don't argue, don't do battle and don't contradict everything prospects say. It doesn't work. Their perception is their reality. The only way to understand their reality is to ask questions.

6.   Action. What action do you want this person to take? Will your product or service benefit this person? If not, don't ask. Always treat others as you would want someone to treat you. That is the Golden Rule.

Think about the last time someone really took the time to connect with you. They approached you positively and with purpose. They asked questions to learn more about you, genuinely listened to your answers and tried to see things from your point of view. Then, they walked you through a process or a sale. It may have taken time and effort for them, but how did that make the experience for you?  Probably very pleasant. And, what are the chances you will recommend them to someone else because of that connection?

So here's your Sales Nugget: See how you can integrate all six tactical components and make connections.