Tuesday, January 29, 2008

One Stop Shopping

Two concepts collided in my cranium today that reminded me of the importance of keeping things simple, especially when it comes to communicating ideas.

A couple of days ago, Andrew at Kazsas forwarded me a link to Guy Kawasaki's interview with Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Made to Stick. It was a healthy reminder that if you want a concept or an idea to catch on, you need to keep things simple and concrete.

Then, as I was reading The Art of Innovation, Kelley talked about the early days of IDEO, how it was a merger of four firms, borne mainly from feedback from customers that they wanted "one-stop-shopping".

You know by now that a year ago we merged with Maskery, one of Canada's top human factors firms, and an incredibly bright bunch of people. Someone mentioned to me that it must be an advantage to our clients to be able to one-stop-shop - get design and engineering services from the same firm. I sort of dismissed the comment, thinking that it's too simplistic, and that customers will think that we're jacks of all trades. So I went off to brainstorm of more complicated explainations for why customers should fall head over heels for what we affectionately code-named Maskadamain.

Andrew's email made me think back to a project we collaborated on with the Maskery team about five years ago, long before we decided to merge. While the end result was brilliant, and the client loved it, the project was full of speedbumps. Neither of us had alloted enough time for coordination between our two teams, and the client was stuck in the middle. He assumed that one of us would manage the coordination and handoffs from design to engineering, while we were looking to him for the same.

If you're heading up a product group, managing two or more firms that depend on deliverables from one another can be a real pain. If they aren't talking daily, the design group could be heading in a direction that could be difficult or expensive to build, or the engineering team could misinterpret specs from the design team, and end up negating their hard work. If one is late, the other is complaining that their team is idle. Provided that you can find a firm that has both, at the very least the buck stops somewhere, but in the best-case you get some wonderful collaboration happening that avoids the aforementioned problems and results in a better, more tightly designed product. I happen to know such a firm if you're interested...

On the topic of simplicity and stickiness, my colleague Teresa at Macadamian is working on a new format for our case studies that dispenses with the marketing-speak and simply tells the story about what we did, and why it was cool. I can't wait to post the first few on our site. I promise they won't contain the words synergy or synopsize, and no assetts will be leveraged.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Help me get an A (on managing people)

I heard a great quote from Graham Milner, who runs Team Tomorrow, the group driving Global Innnovation at WD-40. Apparently it's a company mantra at WD-40, and it sums up their philosophy about managing people and the role of managers:

"Don't mark my paper, help me get an A".

Friday, January 25, 2008

Observations from CoDev 2008

I just returned from an excellent conference on Co-Development, appropriately called CoDev 2008. The theme was Open Innovation, and the speakers were mainly people who led Open Innovation initiatives within Fortune 500 companies, across a number of industries. If you're not familiar with Open Innovation, it refers to everything having to do with reaching outside of your organization for new ideas - co-developing products, outsourcing design, licensing to name a few.

I'll blog in more detail about some of the talks, but here are a few of my initial observations and interesting tidbits.

  • Open Innovation is being embraced in a serious way. I met people from leading companies in food & beverage, film, consumer electronics, healthcare, packaged goods, and even cigarettes, who all had an Open Innovation team that reported to top management.
  • The prevailing driver for Open Innovation is fueling growth, shortening product cycles, and the realization that you, as a company, don't hold the monopoly on smart people and the best ideas.
  • P&G sources over 60% of new products externally.
  • P&G needs to create $98M of new revenue each week to satisfy their growth targets.
  • It takes time to change the Not-Invented-Here mindset. Even in companies like P&G, who have been doing open innovation for 10 years, fight the "but we could do it ourselves!" argument each time they bring in an external idea
  • WD-40 has been doing Open Innovation since before it was called Open Innovation. They do very little internally - including product development. They are a $300M business with about 260 people.
  • If you could do a co-licensing or co-development deal with your competitor that creates value for both sets of shareholders, why wouldn't you?
  • When you let internal ideas compete with external ones, it gives you more options to choose from, and more options will almost always lead to a better solution
  • Many talked about becoming the "partner of choice" - about striving to be the company that everyone wanted to do business with, and attracting new ideas and business opportunities.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Relationship Tips from Outsourcers: Tip #3

Borrowing from Cosmo, I'd like to share some tips for a long and healthy co-development relationship. Not that I read Cosmo, but I see it at the grocery store. Honest. (coming next week - a Quiz - How Trusting Are You?)

Borrowing from a more reputable source, Tom Peters, I'll call my tip "Celebrate what you want to see more of".

Here's an anti-pattern I see in outsourcing projects. Actually, I see it in the way people manage people as well - one of my colleagues is going through this now (not at Macadamian mind you, at another startup). Some customers of outsourcing projects (and managers of people), especially people new to outsourcing, worry that their outsourcing partner will get too comfortable, or worse, take advantage of them, if they are praised. So they dwell on the negative - quick to give negative feedback, but never giving positive feedback. They worry that if they give good feedback, they won't get the attention they think they deserve and quality will slide.

While it creates an adversarial position, most outsourcing firms with experience can handle this - they've been through it time and time again and will weather it without complaint, though their project managers won't sleep well at night.

But not giving any positive feedback does something worse - it leaves people guessing. The team creates, submits their deliverable, and the only feedback they get is "I don't like this, this and this, and lets not even talk about the color of that." You're leaving out at least half of the data. Tell them what they do like, and you'll find the team will make better decisions next time. Because really, the majority of firms like ours want to do a great job and impress the hell out of you, because they build their business on repeat clientele. The cost of always finding someone new to impress is prohibitively high.

So if you are tasked with managing an outsourced design or development project, when you see something you like, don't hesitate to say so. Not only does it motivate the team, but it gives them more data to work with about what you want to see on the project. The end result will be a superior product in shorter time. So go ahead and give us good feedback - we can take it.

As an aside, when I found that quote from Tom Peters, I also stumbled across another one of his tidbits. He talks about transforming large company departments into professional services firms, and learning from the best services firms. He says: "The cool professional service firm is just that: cool people/talent, a portfolio of cool projects, cool clients. Period. It's only asset -- literally -- is brains. It's only product is projects. It's only aim is truly memorable client service." I rather like that. That's really what our business boils down to, isn't it?