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.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Innovation Opportunity to Fix Our Broken Medical Structure

There was a great article in the Wall Street Journal (I think it was Saturday, September 23) about a private health insurance company and the reason for its success. The leader of the organization believes that lack of continuity it one of the prime issues with healthcare today. He is fairly convincing that the reason we have lost so much continuity is because market has changed, but the healthcare industry hasn't responded appropriately.

He points out that there are specialized doctors, and there are specialist in the specialty, and so on.  There are so many different specialty doctors, but no good communication system set up for collaboration between the doctors. This insurance company puts a team of healthcare professions together to ensure the patient gets the appropriate and most expeditious treatment. 50 years ago, there weren't near as many specialized doctors as there are today.

The leader of the company also said that years ago, a person worked for one company all their life. This may have afforded the employee the opportunity to keep the same healthcare professionals to care for them, building extensive history with the caregiver. Nowadays, a person may work for more than 3 or 4 employers and when they switch they may have to find new doctors and start over.

I wish I hadn't thrown the paper away....I meant to keep it for reference. I hope that you get the gist of it and agree that this may be a situation where the market changed and the industry has not responded, leaving terrific opportunity for innovation.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Masters of Innovation

I enjoyed reading about the innovators in this reading and I particularly enjoyed reading the footnotes. I actually laughed out loud when I read some.  Table 2-1 is the essence of the article in reference format; one that I am sure I will refer to again later in my career.  The two themes for innovation that stand out most to me right now are 1) customer-focus and 2) recognition of patterns.   
Being customer focused is necessary because that is how you know you "are" or "are not" bringing value.  It can also give you clues as to when to pivot and how.  Understanding the customer is critical for success and sustainability. 
Recognition of patterns for innovation is key for being able to connect the dots and invent.  This is why learning different skills can help a person become better at innovation, because as patterns are recognized in one skill as being similar to another, ideas can be shared or transferred.  Patterns can also be sources of information to indicate where the consumer finds value or what works and what doesn’t.  Bill James says, reviewing old data in new ways might highlight a pattern, this can lead to innovation.  Combine this method with Clayton Christensen’s disruptive innovation concept for industry transformation and you will likely find a story like the one of Netflix.  Netflix saw that Blockbuster was making most of its revenues from late fees.  Recognizing the pattern that there are many people turning movies in late, they made this a strength for their business.  In fact, the longer you keep the movie, the better off Netflix is.  Netflix has transformed the movie rental business by combining the pattern they saw of late rentals with simplicity (rent one anywhere) with affordability (a dollar, really?).

Yahoo! SWOT Analysis

Saturday, September 15, 2012

7 Sources of Innovation (Peter Drucker, 1985)

The Unexpected
“The Unexpected” source of innovation comes as a result of unexpected success, failure or outside events. 
In Peter Drucker’s book “Innovation and Entrepreneurship” he explains how Macy’s New York missed the opportunity to cash in on appliance sales because they didn’t want growth of appliances, they were focused on growth in fashion goods.  Bloomingdale’s however, recognized the unexpected success of the appliance sales and responded to the opportunity and prospered from it.  One can also find themselves on the other side of unexpected success by seeing a competitor stumble onto unexpected success; the key is to pay close attention (data) to what customers’ value, not what you think they value.
Failure offers the chance to learn, pivot and try again.  There is a great story of unexpected failure in the book “The Checklist” by Atul Gawande where he shares the events of a flight competition (to compete for a contract to build long range bombers) held by the U.S. Army Air Corps October 30, 1935.  Boeing’s model 229, was much more capable than the specifications the Army gave for the plane.  The flight competition was merely a formality, it seemed obvious that the best plane was the Boeing 229.  Shortly after takeoff, the Boeing 229 stalled, turned on one wing and crashed.  Clearly Boeing, nor the Army, expected the failure of the 229.  The response to the tragic failure was the creation of a pilot’s checklist, making simple and succinct.  This illustrates rebounding from a failure nicely.
The unexpected outside event refers to events that take place independent of what the enterprise is working on.  When a new fad kicks in and a company sees the chance to cash in on the opportunity, this is the unexpected outside event. If a natural disaster decreases the number of suppliers, then this unexpected outside event could be a chance for other suppliers to increase their sales volumes or perhaps innovation will lead to a substation as a result.
An incongruity is a disconnect between what is and what should be (or people assume it to be).  There are several examples of economic incongruities that Mr. Drucker references.  One example is of the steel mills and the creation of “mini-mills.”  The demand for steel increased, but the economic performance from traditional large steel mills did not.  The “mini-mill” at one-sixth to one-tenth the size of the integrated steel mill, was more cost effective and better able to meet customer needs.  The paper mill is another industry that is incongruent in economic reality of demand verses the reality of the process.
            Another type of incongruity is between reality and assumptions.  The book gives the example of the shipping industry in the 1950’s and their efforts to reduce the fuel consumption and crew size; they were focused on the costs of the ship (asset) when it was working.  What they should have been working on was the cost of not working (loading time), because the revenue lost when not working is much greater than the incremental gains made by changes to the design when the ship is at sea (working). 
            Incongruity between perceived and actual reality is, according to Peter Drucker, the most common incongruity.  This pertains to the perception of what the customer wants from the supplier in comparison to the actual need of the customer. 
            Lastly, there can be incongruity in the rhythm of a process.  In other words, the process continues at a predictable, normal, steady pace until a certain step or stage occurs.  This offers one the chance to innovate such that the process can remain rhythmic from beginning to end.  Examples offered in the book include an enzyme to bridge the gap in cataract eye surgery and the fertilizer spreader “Scotts”. 
Process Need
The source of innovation for a process need is an imperfect task or step in an existing process.  For example, the process for exiting I-95N at exit 109 in Georgia is to get in the right hand lane to exit, drive up over the hill in the road (about a mile before the exit) and exit when you arrive at the exit.  With the increase in population in Effingham county the traffic using this exit has increase exponentially over the last 10 years.  The line to exit the highway can grow to a couple of miles, which means at some point the cars are slowed or stopped just beyond the hill, where there is no visibility of the traffic to the driver that is driving 65 miles per hour toward the exit.  After several deaths occurred, the DOT increased the number of lanes to exit at exit 109 to accommodate the volume of cars and relieve the congestion that was creating the hazard. 
Industry and Market Structures
            Changes in industry and market are the prime time to innovate.  The rapid growth of the automobile industry in the early 1900’s is an example in the book.  More recent examples of industry and market structure changes include cell phones, tablets and even the shift from product-based business models (buying CD’s) to service-based (on-line streaming for videos  or downloading songs for a fee) represents a change in structure that offered platforms for innovation.  The caveat for innovation in response to industry and market structures, according to Peter Drucker, is that the innovation must be kept simple.
            Innovation can be based on demographics, in particular age distribution.  The datum is already available and there is known lead time, all that is missing is the ability to see the future as a result of the present situation (and future projection) and not a result of the past.  Identifying changes in the center of population gravity (the age group that is the largest and the fastest-growing age group in the population) can be exploited by capitalizing on the anticipated needs/wants of that group. 
Changes in Perception
            Perception-based innovation occurs when one capitalizes on the perception (not reality) of a group (sector, society, etc.).  One example given was the unprecedented advance and improvement in the health of Americans (though I am not sure that is the case today!).  Americans, however, had the perception that we were unhealthy and needed to change and this opened up opportunity in health foods, education, exercise facilities, equipment and attire and so on.  Peter Drucker states that spotting inaccurate perceptions and acting on them can be risky, they may not be sustainable.  For this reason, he recommends that perception-based innovations start small and specific. 
New Knowledge
            Knowledge-based innovation is the sexiest of entrepreneurship; it is what many think of when they think of the term “innovation.”  Peter Drucker suggests that knowledge-based innovations have long lead times (longest of all innovations) and convergence of knowledge.  Once the research and synthesis of knowledge are complete thorough analysis followed by practice of entrepreneurial management must ensue. Analysis is necessary to confirm and validate the innovation and entrepreneurial management is needed to manage the risks. (Google may be a good example of a company that is lacking in entrepreneurial management, one that is market-focused and driven.)
Intellectual property protection and proper timing (window of opportunity) are also important aspects of knowledge-based innovation. This innovation seems akin to an “all in” approach given the long lead times and the creativity needed to converge knowledge that leads to the breakthrough.