You Don’t Have to be First to Market…

January 31, 2012

As long as you are the best.

For example, MySpace was first to market, generating an incredible following and was by all standards a huge success – THE player in what we now know and love as social media. MySpace was purchased by News Corporation and had all the advantages of professional management and financial backing to guide and fuel its continued growth. In effect, the social media market was MySpace’s to lose. And lose it did. To a company called Facebook launched by some college undergrads.

Why? Because while MySpace was an innovator, it wasn’t a leader. MySpace captured a sizeable market share by being first with a great idea – validating the existence of a market – but it failed to capitalize on its first-mover advantage. Instead, Facebook took the lead in truly learning about what customers wanted and adapting its offering, eventually taking the lead in market share.

The Many Faces of Innovation

January 27, 2012

In my recent post Charting a Course for Corporate Success, I outlined three, broad categories of innovation:
  • Disruptive, Breakthrough Innovations.
  • Sustaining, High-Value Change.
  • Everyday Creativity and Emergent Innovation.
When it comes to leading businesses, it is important that we don’t just come up with new things; we need to innovate in ways that create value for our customers. As research by Robert Wolcott and Mohanbir Sawhney demonstrates, there are many different ways that business can innovate to achieve this outcome. They came up with twelve dimensions of innovation that we can consider:

The Value of Business Focus

January 24, 2012

The essential, underlying aspect of your company’s strategy is its distinctive competence and the perceived value of this competence by your customers. You need to articulate your purpose, and this requires a strong focus.

A great example of exquisite focus is found in the book, Good Strategy/Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt. While I personally lack experience in manufacturing, I can certainly appreciate the example of Crown Cork & Seal and its brilliant strategy crafted by John F. Connelly in the 1960s.

Charting a Course for Corporate Success

January 20, 2012

At a time when corporate survival rates are declining, what do companies – and leaders in particular – need to do to chart a course when maps aren’t readily available? You can’t “cut your way to glory” – at some point businesses need to innovate and grow. But how do you evaluate what the right direction is for your company? Where should you focus?

This is a difficult challenge, and unfortunately, there isn’t a step-by-step cookbook available to solve this problem. I’ve culled together advice from several sources to aid in charting your own course to success. Fair warning: This isn’t a process, just a framework for thinking that provides a little orientation. I’ll admit that is a lot easier pulling this information together than applying it; the hard part is involves thinking deeply about your own situation.

Book Review: Steve Jobs

January 17, 2012

I have to say that this book had me believing that I would dislike Steve Jobs because he came across as a spoiled (crying when he didn’t get his own way), arrogant tyrant to work for, a harsh and insensitive individual to be friends with, and a man who was distant and neglectful towards his family. However, Walter Isaacson balanced this view of Steve Jobs with a detailed treatment of the qualities that made Steve Jobs great.

3 Sets of Agile Questions

January 13, 2012

With Scrum, there are three questions that each team member answers in the daily standup meeting:
  1. What did I do yesterday?
  2. What am I planning to do today?
  3. Do I have any impediments?
These questions target the day-to-day work, but are there questions that can and should be asked as teams conduct a sprint review or a retrospective? Yes. And the right questions are a different set of questions that should explore the value that teams provide their company and the customer.

Overcoming Monkey Business

January 10, 2012

In the self-managed environment of Agile development, managers can come away feeling like they have a lot less to do. After all, management no longer directly assigns and monitors the work, right? A natural follow-up question might be: with autonomous teams, why do we even need managers?

Autonomy should never mean hands-off. Even autonomous teams need a helping hand every now and then. Remember the old saying reminding us that someone, “Can’t see the forest for the trees”? We all can get so involved with the details that we lose sight of the bigger picture. Managers happen to be in a great position to provide a broader perspective to teams that can contribute to more effective day-to-day decision making of the team.

I came across another piece of information to consider in Mike Rother's book, Toyota Kata. In it, Rother cited a research paper on continuous improvement at Toyota written by Professor Koichi Shimizu of Okayama University, which contrasted improvements carried out by production operators (via quality circles, suggestion systems, etc.) and improvements carried out by team leaders or supervisory staff.

Leadership, Management, and Self-Management

January 6, 2012

I view the basic distinction between leadership (“doing the right things”) and management (“doing things right”) as being fundamentally correct, albeit oversimplified. Various forums have raised the question of management versus leadership, with differing opinions on whether one person can be both a manager and a leader. Does this question change in an Agile context?

I believe so. With Agile, traditional lines between leadership, management, and working professionals are blurred. This is not a bad thing, but it is a different thing.

Agility is the New Standard

January 3, 2012

Agile development has been increasing in popularity in recent years, and depending upon who you listen to, the following scenarios are possible in the near future:
  • The foothold Agile has obtained in many organizations will spread beyond software and IT, gaining acceptance in other areas of the business.
  • There will be an increase in failed implementations, with a subsequent backlash against Agile.
  • The term Agile will cease to be used to identify any set of practices; it will simply be THE way that we operate.
I think all of the scenarios are possible; the first two are really about the expansion and growth of enterprise agility and in 2012 I believe that we will see a heightened interest and activity with the rest of the business incorporating Agile practices, mostly out of necessity.