Thursday, November 22, 2012

Leadership Style/Team Interaction

By nature, I am extroverted and loquacious.  There are up sides and down sides to these characteristics.  I have also recently (graciously) been given feedback that I think my idea is the right idea (well, yeah, who doesn’t?).  Really, what I think he was saying is that I have difficulty objectively viewing other’s ideas.  I appreciate this feedback that I was given a few months ago and I am sensitive to this and try extra hard to be open to ideas that aren’t mine.  My leadership style is one that is holistic – when solving a problem, I like to ensure that we are addressing the root cause and not just a symptom of the problem.  I also look at possible solutions and take into account the impact that they will have on the problem being addressed but also the impact and/or unintentional consequences that the solution could have in other areas that may be changed as a result of implementation.
I enjoy having control…something that I work hard to balance with engagement.  It is important to have structure so as to make progress forward, but too much control will shut people down or even cause them to leave the team.  Control needs to be shared amongst team members. 
I like to lead teams starting with clear purpose and agreeing to ground rules for how the team will function.  I like to be efficient without sacrificing effectiveness.  This means that I have to accept the inefficiencies associated with finding the optimal solution, not just the solution that can be designed first.
I consider myself somewhat a realist, knowing that there is a tradeoff between the perfect solution and timeliness.  I also understand that there are constraints, such as time, money, technology, etc that we have to respect and accept.  I tend to choose teammates that are subject matter experts and other stakeholders.  I find that when facilitating a meeting, sometimes I am a mediator between two people or groups of people.  We often make decisions based on consensus. 
Sometimes I don’t delegate enough and this is mostly because I want to show my teammates my level of commitment, but it slows us down; this is something I am working on.  I have recently mastered making the request that while I facilitate the meeting, someone else take the notes.  It’s not very efficient for me to facilitate and stop and make notes throughout the meeting.  It helps to announce that this job will be rotated, so that someone doesn’t think they are stuck with taking notes for all the meetings.
When I am not the formal leader of a team, I am highly engaged and often passionate about my ideas. I (thanks to previous feedback) keep an open mind to hear other ideas.  I believe my strength in teams is my ability to think creatively and my willingness to be venerable by suggesting crazy/wild ideas.  Sometimes they are really good and sometimes they are just crazy.  It is important to form strong relationships with teammates so that you feel comfortable suggesting “out of the box” ideas and also so that each person is able to confront someone/something; healthy tension moves a team forward.

Just SmarkIt!

I have an important meeting tomorrow morning– I’m interviewing for my dream job at Boston Consulting Group in downtown Boston.  I’m so excited and very nervous about it.  My interview is at 10am, one of the busiest times of the day for parking.  If you’ve ever been to Boston, you are familiar with how frustrating it can be to find parking.  You can spend half an hour circling block after block looking for a space and ultimately giving up and going to a parking garage where you pay $20 for two hours of parking and then have to walk to your destination. 
Fortunately for me, my Dad suggested that I go onto SmarkIt’s website and reserve the on-street parking spot that I need for tomorrow.  I Now I don’t have to worry about finding a place to park or paying ridiculous rates at a parking garage and having to walk in the rain (it is going to rain tomorrow).  SmarkIt takes the worry and frustration out of having to find parking in Boston - don't fret over parking - just SmarkIt! 

SmarkIt Market Opportunity

Our project is the startup company called "SmarkIt".  SmarkIt is an intelligent parking solution service that will be marketed in East coast states with cities that have population greater than 100,000 people; there are 67 cities that fit these criteria. It isn’t practical to try and target 67 cities on startup so we have decided to target one or more of these four cities.
Boston, MA (population approximately 625K)
Bridgeport, CT (population approximately 145K)
Cambridge, MA (population approximately 106K)
Providence, RI (population approximately 178K)
For this blog, I’ll focus on Boston.  Boston has about 625K people and the city of Boston has about 7,500 meters throughout the city are active Monday through Saturday 8am to 6pm.   The on-street parking is preferred over garage parking for convenience as well as the cost.  Therefore, it is reasonable to assume the demand would be all of the available meters.
The “addressable demand” is the total market opportunity for our company, which takes into consideration the customer, competitors and substitutions (like public transportation or bicycles). There are over 120 parking garages in the city of Boston.  The rates are substantially greater than the on-street parking which is part of what drives the demand for the on-street parking.  There are about 2,800 bike parking spaces and more are planned.  The city of Boston is piloting meters that take credit and debit cards in addition to quarters on four streets: Cambridge Street, Union Street, New Chardon Street, and Devonshire Street.  They also have some pay and display meters that require the customer to get a receipt and put it in the window of their car.  This indicates that a significant portion of the 7,500 meters would be addressable with our product. 
The viable market takes into account our constraints on human resources, expertise, technology, or other resource.  Given this is a startup, we will be limited on many resources and will opt to phase the program in starting with QR codes on the meters. Additional details will not be added here, as this blog is available publicly.
The winnable market, in our opinion will be what we believe the city of Boston would be willing to pilot with us.  We will propose a trial that would be reasonable to learn and pivot – perhaps 100 to 200 meters.  Once it is successful and robust we’ll continue to press for additional meters.  The goal is to get our foot in the door and show the ease of use and benefits for both the city and the customer and later propose the smart meters that will allow for reservations and dynamic pricing.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Can A Company Today Survive On Inbound Marketing?

Can a company today survive on inbound marketing? Why or why not? What is the role of outbound marketing?
It depends…inbound marketing is a good fit for businesses that have small marketing budgets and/or target segments that are well versed in technology, the internet and social media.  Inbound marketing can be especially effective if there is endorsement in the social media realm.  Endorsements tend to have more influence than an ad. For example, consider the Amazon reviews on products and the impact they have on the buyer.
Inbound marketing is used to connect people that are looking for products/services find a good match for their needs.  This makes this form of marketing efficient because when contact is made between the customer and the business the customer is often looking to make a purchase. Another reason inbound marketing is efficient is the investment funds are typically significantly less than outbound marketing. 
Another upside to inbound marketing is the opportunity it presents to engage the client more than traditional outbound marketing, because inbound marketing is dynamic and can be interactive.  It gives the business a chance to show the potential client the power of their product in a way that outbound marketing cannot do.
This isn’t to say that it is optimal for companies that have small marketing budgets or tech savvy customers to rely exclusively with inbound marketing, but it may be enough to survive until there is a larger budget to support a balance of inbound and outbound marketing. 
The role of outbound marketing is to: 1) reach customers that haven’t considered buying your product/service (get their attention, plant a seed), 2) access potential customers that do not use technology much,3) send a physical sample to a potential client, 4) send a useful item (like a calendar) that the consumer might use and be reminded of your product/service and 5) possibly to establish a presence with businesses that uses outbound marketing extensively in order to compete.  Communication via outbound marketing takes more resources to execute and would therefore likely be used in industries that can support a large marketing budget. 
For our team project, because it is technology based we will probably rely on inbound marketing exclusively to begin with.  As we grow we would like to use outbound marketing to reach customers that are visitors (airports, car rental facilities) to the cities we are established in.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Why Big Companies Can’t Innovate

I would title this “Why Big Companies Won’t Innovate” because I believe they can, if they want to.  This article struck a chord with me because the company I work for is large and change is excruciatingly slow.   They have developed cute slogans with titles like “Simply Dare” daring employees to innovate.  It feels more like a marketing campaign than a program for real innovation.  Why?  Real innovation requires investment, it requires a culture that accepts failure as part of the package for innovation, and it requires that you break the rules.  I work for a company that has processes for processes - we are a governance rich company.  Innovation is not an idea…innovation is an idea that is acted upon, designed, tested and redesigned. 
Another reason big companies are not as good at innovating may be because they police their staffing levels to ensure efficiency.  Bare bones staffing overworks the employees and leaves them feeling sapped.  It would be counter-intuitive to corporate managers to encourage employees to take a walk, play a game, or go home early, because that wouldn’t seem efficient to them.  This “down time” is the incubation period necessary for solving complex problems; these solutions often elude the conscious mind. Organizations that are too lean sacrifice ideas for efficiency.
The timing of this article is ironic.  Just this morning I had some ideas for a program I’d like to put together and launch, first at my manufacturing site, but then I’d like to pitch it to the Manufacturing Steering Committee, in an effort reach the entire organization.  I don’t want to share the details in this forum, because if it is as successful as I believe it can be, it may become intellectual property.  It is aimed at teaching the corporation how to become a culture that fosters innovation.  It’s risky, because the culture of the German giant that I work for is controlling and risk adverse, but I am so passionate about it, I’m going to pursue it. It’s a terrific dream, but unless I can sell it all the way to the top, it won’t matter.  Implementation for this, as it is for innovation, is critical.  So, what would happen if I broke the rules completely and went straight to the top with the idea… or maybe push it out to all the executives at once – talk about risky! I wouldn’t do this until after the pilot is complete and successful. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Toyota's Secret

The A3 tool that Toyota has used for years to sustain success is much more than a problem solving tool, though it is excellent for that too.  The strength, and perhaps not so obvious, lies in the cultural impact and relationship building it fosters. 

One way the culture is impacted by instilling a troubleshooting mindset amongst employees.  Cultivating this attitude vertically, top to bottom, is powerful.  Issues are identified at various levels and can be solved with cross-functional teams.  Sustainable countermeasures can be delivered through team work incorporating experience and enthusiasm. A3 also works well because it empowers employees, a valuable motivator.  This is the lubricant that keeps the machine in motion, propelling the company ahead of the competition.

Another way A3 impacts the culture is by aligning interests of people and departments.  This directs the energy constructively, resulting in positive change that is meaningful; progress fuels the process.

Numerous iterations teach the people resilience - don't give up.  This makes cracking the really tough problems more likely - one of Toyota's secret weapons.

The relationships that form and strengthen through this process make the team more robust and better poised to manage conflict. Healthy conflict is essential for growth.

Technically, the tool is simple and powerful.  The author states A3 as "standardized storytelling."  Storytelling has long been regarded as an effective way to engage people.  The pictures communicate the story quickly and succinctly.  A3 is grounded in proven scientific methods; the secret is in the application of the tool that brings people together and shapes the culture into one of continuous improvement and operational excellence.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Pain-Gain Map for Smart Parking Grid

The "Pain-Gain Map" appears to have come from the website Gamestorming.

To be successful, your product or service must appeal to the customer and it must outweigh the cons of not investing in it.  By mapping out the pros and cons from the customers' perspective you may discover something that is of great value to the customer but has not been considered in your business model.  You may also discover that something you thought was valuable to this customer segment, is insignificant.  It is crucial that the entrepreneur choose a niche market to start out, with the best customer segment(s) targeted.  By doing this exercise, it is possible to figure out which segment(s) will find the most value in your proposition.

Smart Parking Grid

For residents of Boston, who park downtown, have trouble finding metered parking spots, and frequently find themselves without change, the Smart Parking Grid is an infrastructure change to the city of Boston along with a mobile application that alerts residents where open parking spots are and allows them to pay meters with credit cards or bank accounts through their mobile phones instead of change. Unlike residents who live in cities with traditional, change-only parking meters, residents of Boston will experience an improved quality of life in that they will be able to easier find parking spots in the city and enjoy the convenience of paying with their mobile phones.