Category Archives: Startup

Mike Lehr @ ‘The Three Questions’

Since 2003, as President and Founder of Omega Z Advisors, LLC, Mike Lehr has worked as a change management specialist prepping and moving people through change. He accomplished this either as a contractor or as an organizer and leader of project teams. Mike has been
speaking publicly for over 40 years. He has trained Mike Lehrand coached for over 25 years.

Since 2007, Mike has had an intense focus on helping firms implement new IT infrastructures and applications as well as developing IT talent. Mike spends much time raising IT to the human level.

Mike has blogged since 2010, writing over 500 original posts of over 150,000 words. It is an extensive reference tool. Mike is also the author of The Feminine Influence in Business a comprehensive book about integrating more intuitive approaches with classical ones to develop talent, influence and solve problems. < Read more about Mike Lehr >

We thank Mike for taking out time and be part of ‘Three Questions’ series. With Mike we will focus on  managing self and how do we become better professional. I am sure you will enjoy reading Mike.

Product Mantra: Mike you have been in the business for over 20 years now, what makes
you believe that ‘influencing’ and ‘problem solving’ are key to achieve change as desired.

Mike Lehr: Very simply Abhay, we cannot do anything without being able to influence or solve problems. Influencing comes into play from leadership to IT introductions. Problem solving comes into play from talent assessment to product roll-outs. Change is no different.

How do we achieve change? That is a problem. It needs a solution. That requires problem solving skills.

Yes, we might know the solution immediately. It might not seem like a problem. Yet, it is. The problem could be that we are just going through the motions. We are thinking inside the box. Experience is a side of that box. That’s why laypersons often have innovative ideas outside of their experience. The man who solved the measuring of longitude was a watch maker, not an astronomer as were all the other experts of that time.

How do we bring about change? We need to influence people. We need to influence ourselves. Both require motivation. Even if others are solving the problem for you, you must motivate them even if it’s simply by paying them. That’s influence. Money is influence.

I challenge anyone to find a way to achieve change without influencing and problem solving.

Product Mantra: Investing in self is really important, what would be your advice to mid-level executives in this regard. What kind of learning, certification or training will help them prepare better for later part of their career?

Mike Lehr: Abhay, I have run training that people have found very valuable even though they learned nothing new. That is because I presented the same material in a way that motivated them to use it.

I often claim that people could be successful without learning one new thing if, and this is a big if, they would just apply 10% of what they learned but had never implemented.

Trainers make big bucks teaching people the same things that they learned but never implemented. Some people collect knowledge like they do tools, kitchen utensils or exercise equipment. It’s simple. Use what you already know. That’s the lesson.

Beyond that learn to be confident. Learn to believe in what you do know and can do. Confidence influences people even when nothing else might be there. Confidence is a tool. It is not a state of being.

People like confident people. Studies show this is true even if people do not know where that person is going. Confidence triggers the emotional need for security in all of us.

Product Mantra: Tell us something about your work on integrating more intuitive approaches with classical ones to develop talent, influence and solve problems.

Mike Lehr: In general, Abhay, integrating more intuitive approaches is about tapping people’s emotions to influence and solve problems. It is about changing how they see things, not changing the things they see.

For example, consider customer service. The classic approach sees the problem objectively. That means to improve customer service we teach ways to improve service. The focus is on service. We change the thing. That thing is service.

Now, I trained people to improve customer service without teaching them one thing to improve that service. Initially, when I say that I stump many people. That is because we do not consider people’s emotions, thoughts or behaviors regarding that service. The focus is on things (service) not people.

Even if we provide good service, there is no guarantee that people will notice it. My training focused on showing people how to ensure that customers noticed it. I didn’t have them change the service. I just taught them ways to change how customers saw the service.

For instance, studies show that when customers see a busy staff their assessment of service goes up even though none of that activity is about them. Conversely, when they see staff hanging around talking to one another, their assessment of service goes down even if nothing changed about the service they received.

In some ways, this is very similar to the way a branding, marketing or advertising campaigns change people’s impressions of products and services. The difference is that we apply these principles on an interpersonal level.

This can save tons of money. We don’t have to change things. We just change how people see things. In problem solving, this means we don’t solve the problem. We just change how we think, feel and react to it. That might mean we find that the problem isn’t really a problem.

When we integrate the two, we change things and change how people see things. This is even more powerful than either approach alone.

Thanks Mike.

Mike Lehr on web:

  1. Follow Mike on twitter @ MikeLehrOZA
  2. Connect with Mike on Linkedin 
  3. Omega Z Advisors
  4. Mike Lehr’s blog

@mathurabhay

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Jeff Lash @ ‘The Three Questions for Product Manager’

Jeff-Lash

Twitter: @jefflash

Jeff Lash is a product management adviser, researcher and a blogger. He is the Service Director of the Product Management advisory service at SiriusDecisions, the leading global b-to-b research and advisory firm. Jeff plays vibraphone along with several other instruments. We thank Jeff for taking out time and be part of ‘Three Questions’ series for product managers.

Product Mantra: Is “data driven decision-making” killing the innovative thinking among product owners?

Jeff Lash: Quite the contrary – at SiriusDecisions, we still encounter product management teams that base a lot of their decision-making on anecdotes and gut instinct rather than objective data. Innovation and evidence-based decision-making aren’t in conflict – in fact, they work well together and in many cases you need them both.

For example, it’s okay to think about innovative ideas for new products or product enhancements. However, instead of just running off and building them, product managers should look to conduct concept testing to see whether these ideas have merit and, if they do, to help iterate and improve upon them. Similarly, data can be extremely helpful in identifying opportunities to innovate. Quantitative data – from a variety of sources, including everything from market overviews to web analytics – can help identify needs, pain points and trends, and that can inspire innovative ideas that wouldn’t have been identified otherwise.

It feels as though people take a position on either end of the spectrum. On the one side, there are people who quote (or, more likely, misquote) Steve Jobs or Henry Ford and believe that customers don’t know what they want and you should just come up with innovative ideas and try and move the market. On the other side, there are people who believe every question in life can be answered through an A/B test. The reality is that there is a happy medium in the middle.

Product Mantra: What are three things that you don’t want a product manager to spend his or her time on?

Jeff Lash:

  • User experience design. This is a topic that is coming up more often, especially for SaaS products, as the lines between product management and user experience are sometimes unclear. Product managers certainly should care about user experience and work closely with UX practitioners. However, if they’re getting into the details of design, that’s a problem, since often they don’t have the skills or experience to do good UX work, and it means that’s taking time away from other important activities they should be doing. I wrote more about this in my blog post Product Management is Not User Experience.
  • Detailed specifications. It’s very easy for product managers to slip into specifying the details of how a capability can be implemented. For those product managers who were former developers or engineers especially, they often know the product or the underlying technology so well they could specify how it should be built. That’s not the job of the product manager, though. And in Agile, even though functional specifications aren’t produced as a formal deliverable, the same sort of detail is being created for each story – often in the form of detailed acceptance criteria. There are plenty of other roles that can handle the specifications – and often do a much better job – but there’s only one product manager. When product managers can provide guidance and context to those doing the detailed work, not only are they themselves not spending time on those sort of tactical elements, but the end result will also likely be much better as well.
  • Anything for just one customer. One fundamental difference between product management and bespoke product development is that product management is focused on creating a product that can sell to multiple customers in a market or segment. Especially in startups, situations where one customer represents a large percentage of the revenue, or even when one customer represents a large percentage of the total addressable market, product managers can get drawn in to focusing on just fulfilling requests from specific customers. Product managers should listen to customers and understand what they want and why, but rather than simply following orders, they need to evaluate whether the feature or capability or change would be valuable to the target market as a whole.

Product Mantra: What traits should one look for in a candidate while hiring for a product manager position in a b-to-b market?

Jeff Lash: I like that you specifically asked about traits rather than skills or experience. Clearly, having a certain set of experience is important, but things like competencies can be developed in an individual, while traits are harder to learn or adapt. There are a number of traits that I think are important, but here are four I’d suggest looking for:

  • Passion. Product managers need to be passionate about the role and the subject matter in which he or she is working. You need passion to build great products, and you need passion to inspire others to build great products. Ask candidates what gets them out of bed in the morning and try to determine their level of passion for the role and the industry/customers/product.
  • Empathy. Product managers need to be able to empathize with buyers and customers and users in order to fulfill their needs and empathize with colleagues to create effective and high-performing teams. Ask candidates to tell an example of when they empathized with a customer or colleague and what they learned from it.
  • Humility. Humility will help product managers empathize with customers and enable them to relate better to your internal colleagues. It also enforces the idea of being part of a team – arrogance is a difficult trait to make work in a collaborative environment. Ask about successes and listen to whether the candidate only talks about his or her own role or gives credit to the others who contributed.
  • Tenacity. There will be challenges along the way, whether it’s trying to get management to fund a new product, resolving some technical issues or taking on a major competitor. People who have a low tolerance for overcoming challenges will struggle in the role. Ask about a time when the candidate faced an obstacle that seemed insurmountable and how he or she overcame it.

Thanks Jeff.

Jeff Lash on Social Media

  1. Follow Jeff on Twitter at @jefflash.
  2. Blog about product management at How To Be A Good Product Manager 
  3. Official blog post on the SiriusDecisions blog,

About SiriusDecisions
SiriusDecisions, the leading global b-to-b research and advisory firm. SiriusDecisions empowers the world’s leading marketing, product and sales leaders to make better decisions, execute with precision and accelerate growth.

@mathurabhay

5 takeaways from Nobel Laureate Md Yunis’ experience for Product Managers

One Young World 2010, Professor Muhammad Yunus shared his experience on how he created something that was so wrong by definitions but yet successful in creating positive impact on lives of thousands of his customers. He has beautifully summed up the thoughts that I believe every product manager must carry while he or she is working on conceptualizing new product or service. These are simple yet powerful points that can help you build a product with differentiation and having significant value proposition.

video courtesy: Youtube

While I am sure you will enjoy the video, I would like to sump-up some of the points;

  1. Think beyond Rules: Rules defined by conventional or well established business should mean nothing to you. Do not let your thoughts be caged within these boundaries. Treat them as mental blocks and just let them go.
  2. Think / aim Gigantic: Note what Professor suggested to CEO of ADIDAS on vision. Yes they are difficult but I always believe that having challenging vision helps you build a stronger character and better professional. So just go for it.
  3. Create your customer: Conventional banks have 97% male customer whereas grahmin bank went to women and close to 99% customers are female. Create your customer, identify who else can you sell your product or services to. If you are someone who works on Go-To-Market and target market you would appreciate the value that professor brings when he talks about his experience of having a branch in New York City.
  4. Possible vs impossible: Yes indeed the gap has narrowed down. It is equally important to unlearn as it is to learn. Some of the Don’ts of past have become Dos of present times. So maybe it’s time to rework on your basic assumptions you had while conceptualizing your product or service.
  5. It is never crowded for innovation / innovators: Well said, in fact I am of the opinion that a crowded place offers best opportunity to innovate.

@mathurabhay

5 pitfalls of startup failure

5PITFALLSProduct managers, entrepreneurs and business worldwide are busy solving problems that each of these hope would bring in great relief of their target audience. Outcome is never guaranteed but one thing we know for sure is that, less than 10% of these ideas will actually see a successful life. Most, almost 90+ percentage of these will cease in their early stage. There are many reasons of failure and if you have decided to kick-start your entrepreneurial journey, here are 5 pitfalls that you must be careful of.

  1. Wrong problem. You believe it is a problem which actually is not a problem or you have failed to define it accurately. Who has problem? will he/ she pay to get it resolved? what is the frequency at which problem occurs ? etc – know *.* of the problem before you move on to next step.
  2. Poorly designed solution. You have identified the right problem, but somehow messed up with the solution. Accuracy, efficiency and effectiveness of the solution is not good enough to solve the identified problem and hence even if you have identified and scoped out problem accurately your solution pulls you down.
  3. Bad execution. Poorly defined business process or team selection ends up killing a bright opportunity. People and process when defined and chosen wrongly kills a well identified opportunity and then solution designed hardly matters, you are sure to lose the battle.
  4. No Monetization. For many, monetization plan is either never defined or not thought through properly. Important questions like revenue model, cash flow etc remains unanswered even when product has entered into maturity phase. Profit is purpose of business and this purpose should be well defined in early stages as well should get matured as your product or solution does.
  5. Short Scale. All looks good and you are even making profit. However, making profit is not good enough to sustain a business. How much profit? and at what scale are very important. It is imperative that the idea that you are working on is scalable else you are sure to end up slogging too hard for earning your daily bread and hence it might not be sustainable for long run.

Failing in any of the above aspects would result in competition or substitute offerings eating up your share of pie. Needless to say that it pains most when you fail on to capitalize on opportunities that you identified at right time and in right position. Entrepreneurship is all about taking chances, improving success probability and mitigating risks and you as owner of your business you are expected to take care of these pitfalls.

So what do you do to ensure that you are not victimized by any of these pitfalls. Keep it simple, have these five potential pitfalls noted on a post-it and put on your desk. Never ever let any of these slip out of your thought process. Think about these when you design new feature, when you create deployment model, set revenue targets or when you are working on user experience. Of course there are many validation point that you will come across but validation comes little late than your thought process and your thought process is first check point for you to have optimal path towards success.

@mathurabhay