Intersections / Exaptation: Silo Busting

I don’t think you are right. Almost always great new ideas don’t emerge from within a single person or function, but at the intersection of functions or people that have never met before. And most universities are organised so you don’t have those intersections. They are siloed. Universities think people come up with great ideas by closing the door. The academic tenure process, where you have to publish to journals which are very narrow, stands in the way of great research.

 Clayton Christensen

Business model / systems view on solving customer problems.

Marty Cagan is one of the leading thinkers in product leadership and I’ve learned a great deal from his knowledge and experience. His latest post puts his Opportunity Assessments, Alex Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas and Ash Maurya’s Lean Canvas in context.

While I agree with what he says for the most part, I take some exception to this statement:

In the case of an existing product, the majority of a Canvas is irrelevant.  You already have a distribution model.  You already have a monetization strategy.  There is already a well-defined cost structure.  You are simply trying to create more value in your solution.

It’s splitting hairs somewhat on word choice, but I would say that thinking about your product’s business model as a whole is far from irrelevant, whether for an existing product or new. Knowing what Cagan has written, I know he doesn’t dispute this, so not trying to make a straw man argument here based on one word. But do wish to comment as this is a firm product leadership belief of mine.

One of the most useful outcomes of taking a business model approach / systems view in startup and product management is that each business model area is then properly seen as an opportunity to serve the customer better.

It’s a useful antidote to myopic thinking on product – kind of like product teams that push out releases with no concern for how to get it to customers or help them understand how to use it to solve their problems. It may be beyond a particular functional area’s interest, but someone has to think about it to ensure market success. Product and startup leadership being a horizontal function, I think it is the job of product leaders to own their business models as a whole – not just the product. This systems level approach is what we advocate to new startup founders / product leaders in the Laurier Launchpad Program.

Put another way, a customer’s interaction with your business and product extends past the product itself – beyond Osterwalder’s Value Proposition cell, Maurya’s Solution cell or the Opportunity part of Cagan’s framework. Each of these tools are valuable and in my view product management adjuncts to user stories in Agile Engineering. They’re relevant as practically usable, lightweight methods to think about the things you should in a way that can be rapidly improved upon. Rather than the heavyweight, slow to change prior methods that no one uses / reads anyways, like business plans or detailed designs.

Another way I find useful to think about the customer lifecycle is Steve Blank’s “Get-Keep-Grow” simplification of Osterwalder’s “Customer Relationships” canvas cell, or a widened version of your standard sales funnel. Each touch point the customer has with your business (in other words, each part of the business model) is an opportunity to solve a customer problem or do something remarkably different from competitors.

For example, I think one of the most valuable aspects of cloud / SaaS solutions to customers is decreasing the time it takes for the customer to “get” a solution compared to older enterprise / on premise deployment approaches. Customers tell me it’s a dream in comparison to wake up, log into the product and find new solutions and fixes ready to go, or to be able to get their problems solved in the first place without the usual red tape and legwork involved in on-premise deployments.

That all said, being able to solve customer problems across the business model depends on how much power you actually have. I’m fortunate in my position to have that kind of control, but in other situations, areas of the business model may simply be out reach for a product manager. In those situations you can only make recommendations on business model changes or try to lead/engineer those changes politically.

For this reason, I think the claim of product management being the “CEO of the product” is only really true when manifested in organizational authority, and that’s really the only way a product leader can make the biggest dent on the market success of their products. Otherwise it’s just a case of having responsibility for market success but not full power to do anything about it.


Choice Cuts: Craig Nova – The Constant Heart

But that’s what he taught me and one of the things that is disparaged these days. A standard of behaviour, of feeling, of knowing that when you feel a nasty thing, or screw someone over to get ahead, it isn’t that you are getting somewhere, but are being reduced, made into less of a human being.

This is something that men are up against: already tried and convicted on the basis of what others have done.

If it is a school of fish and gaggle of geese, it should be an angst of graduate students.

The disappearing of a human being and where he went, not the body, but the part that told jokes and stood up to things… Let those of you who think you know what grief is consider the touch of the cold hand of a man you loved…I wondered if I understood my father’s generosity of spirit. The dignity of forgiving, and how it enhanced the person doing it.