The New Digital Landscape of IoT
As I pondered exactly what I should write here for the readers of CIO Review, it occurred to me that there were probably enough articles on the technology and process changes required to adapt to the changing digital world. Instead, it seems a better use of this space to review what I have learned about changing the enterprise Product Culture over the past 4 years in the Internet of Things marketspace. In that experience, we have seen a blank sheet of paper in many ways as we turn assumptions into ‘truth’ that can be backed with evidence. A little background.
A few years ago, I was asked to take a step outside the normal enterprise product organization to focus attention on innovation and new business opportunities in the emerging M2M/IoT space. The lack of product or market existence in an exploratory undertaking requires a different mindset and approach to be effective as a product professional, but the fundamental focus should be more similar than dissimilar. It is this understanding of focus that leads to my premise here.
“In the hyper digital age of business, the skill set required for emerging product discovery must become a standard skill set for all of Product Management.”
Internet of Things domain is fundamentally an exploration into the unknown
The diagram is the traditional view of a product professional; part business strategist, part technology guru, part customer advocate, the eternal middleman generalist that seeks to find the compromisable gray areas that can be exploited for success. While effectively navigating the process and politics of the enterprise across these domains will certainly increase the chances for success within the known enterprise vision, being the middleman will not serve the product professional well in emerging market opportunities. A problem is created from the enterprise desire to discover a 'one size fits all' approach to delivering outcomes. The Internet of Things domain is fundamentally an exploration into the unknown (as are all new and emerging areas of endeavor) therefore; we must employ "discovery" techniques. These techniques have fundamental differences from what Product teams learn in Business or MBA educational curriculums; namely, they require exploration of ideas that have unpredictable outcomes. This unpredictability drives changes in the methodology, and I will discuss two foundational differences here.
1. Orienting toward the customer-As noted before, the traditional role of the product manager is regularly the middleman for the surrounding enterprise dynamics. But, in the world of discovery, the placement of the PM is all the way out to the edge with the customer; they simply MUST break away from the traditional role. Why?? In an emerging market opportunity, the sole focus of the endeavor is the discovery of 1) a problem that needs to be solved and 2) a direct understanding of the level of 'demand' associated with the solving of that problem. Unless this effort is successful, the technical and business modeling efforts associated with traditional product focus are irrelevant and doing them will slow down time to market and drive up cost. The end result of this discovery technique is that product managers will spend the vast majority of their life outside the office; with customers. From the very first lecture I heard with Steve Blank over 5 years ago, I have had his saying written on my white board; "NO facts exist inside this building, only opinions." As middleman, the PM function is generally called upon for their opinion on a wide array of topics across a multitude of domains. With emerging opportunities, we must realize that time is much better spent outside the office gathering facts.
Now I know that there are a lot of product managers that spend time talking to customers, but value is not derived by just having the conversation. The value is driven by what you are trying to learn during that conversation, which leads to the second point.
2. Searching for 'NO'-One of the most difficult issues to deal with in the emerging space is the knowledge that the customer most often cannot tell you what they want with any degree of certainty or specificity. We know from human behavior studies that the answer of 'no' is a more reliable indicator than the answer of 'yes' (all married people can testify to this fact). So, the discovery quest is built around the search for 'no'. In this way, we are never asking the customer what they want in the product; we are searching for those things that they will not let you remove from the product. The great Georgia Tech professor and entrepreneur, Merrick Furst, is noted for saying, "discover what you do NOT have to do, and then do NOT do that under any circumstances". This is a difficult skill, but extremely necessary in the emerging market space where you simply cannot afford to chase every product feature without evidence of its value.
There are other techniques that need to be adopted beyond just these two such as
• understanding the difference between what is “truth” vs. “belief”
• eliminating confirmation bias
• building Minimum Viable Products and establishing Smallest Viable Markets
Fundamentally, based on everything I see and hear while traveling the globe, the corporate enterprise wants to achieve greater speed, flexibility, innovation, and a more entrepreneurial spirit. I believe that the enterprise is really crying out for a change in the overall product culture to adopt different techniques and beliefs. The key word in the last sentence is "culture". A culture of discovery and exploration is far more than just a process change or a couple of fancy new tools. It is a dedicated effort to change the way product professionals think and interact.
A few noteworthy companies (such as GE and Intuit, among others) have realized the necessity of the change, and this change is not just for companies involved in IoT markets. This change is fundamental for every company being transformed by the Digital tsunami, and I believe it will be the key to survival. Will others follow suit before it is too late?