Will There Be Indian Software Companies Anytime Soon?

Why aren’t there more global software product companies out of India? Basab Pradhan examines

expertszonA few years ago at Infosys I used to regularly get the question – why isn’t Infosys doing more in software products? In response I wrote this piece for Rediff where I addressed the question of why Indian services companies don’t do well at products and why they shouldn’t even bother. Since then Infosys-incubated OnMobile has done quite well, but that in no way disproves my claim that the two business models – products and services – are so different that they don’t belong together (OnMobile was a separate company well before it found its groove).

Lately I’ve been getting a different question – why aren’t there more global software product companies out of India? (I use ‘product company’ as short hand for any information technology IP based company). Clearly, it isn’t for lack of software engineering talent.

The single most important reason is the lack of a domestic market for software. India’s market for business or personal software is very small market compared to developed markets. And you can’t build software products away from the market.

Designing software products requires a kind of iteration with end users that just isn’t possible unless you are ‘just across the street’ from your end user. Demos, prototypes, white-boarding with users who are willing to give of their time is what creates a good product design. Something that just can’t be achieved by using tools and methods, however sophisticated, in an offshore model.

This, by the way, is true for all product development, not just in software. You have to first create a customer base in your home market that can then become the springboard for international expansion. The auto industry is a global industry and to my mind there is no company that started making cars for a foreign market before establishing a beachhead at home.

Why is India’s software market so small? Partly due to the size of the economy and partly because average income is so low that productivity gains due to adoption of technology don’t  pay off unless that cost of the software is really low. This is true about all emerging markets.

The software products market is dominated by American software companies. As the largest integrated market by far, the US has a great advantage here. But that is not the only reason. The most competitive companies in an industry tend to cluster, as Paul Krugman showed us, and areas like the Silicon Valley and Boston are the industry clusters for software.

Can Indian tech companies succeed? They can – by first serving needs in the local market that are not served by global software companies. Such needs could be underserved because the global players find the market too small and the prices too low to make changes to their software or because the market need is unique. The price that would work for say a small business ERP in India may not be something that any US ERP vendor is interested in.

Pricing, or ‘the bottom of the pyramid’ path is a very plausible path to success especially with business software. The world over, businesses will be able to afford computers before people at home do. Small businesses in third world countries, very much like in India, don’t like to pay (too much) for software. But you do need business software to scale your business. A successful Indian business software company will know how to make a profit at price points where big software companies won’t.

The competition at the bottom of the pyramid is going to come from Open Source. Open Source is slowly creeping up the stack. There are even a couple of Open Source ERP names. But perhaps Open Source is an opportunity itself. Perhaps Indian companies should use Open Source to play the IP game. I have yet to see much happen on this front although this could have been closer to the knitting of the Services companies. Maybe we will soon.

About the author

BasabPhotoHomepageBasab Pradhan is formerly CEO of Gridstone Research. Basab blogs at 6ampacific.com

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Product Management in a Start-up

expertszon by Gopal Shenoy

Is a product manager needed during early stages of a startup? If yes, what should be his/her role,  given that everyone tends to wear multiple hats and the distinction between Product Management/Marketing and Architecture/Development is blurred. Is this a healthy cross-pollination or a disaster in the making? (I had asked this of Gopal, triggering this post: Subrata)

I will offer my opinions on these questions drawing on my experience in the software industry and having played a role in the creation of successful products and utter failures.

1) Is a product manager needed during early stages of a startup?

Yes, a product manager is absolutely needed right from the early stages of a startup. A bunch of engineers can band together and write awesome software. But often, engineers fail to ask the fundamental questions:

1.    What problem does it solve?

2.    How many customers have the said problem?

3.    Are the customers willing to pay to solve the problem?

4.    Who is going to buy the darn thing and will they pay enough for us to be profitable?

5.    Does this solve the problem the way the customers expect it to work or do they have to change their ways?

It is a product manager that will help a company to answer the above questions and make sure product development is aligned with customer problems. Only then will a company be able to create a business, sustain it and be successful.

Otherwise, you run into the infamous argument (I call it a trap) that I have heard over and over -if we build something, they will come. No – unless you have something they absolutely want at the price they want, they will NOT come. If the user experience does not save them time or money, they will keep solving the problem the old way because a) they do not have time to learn new ways and b) humans by nature are resistant to change.

There have been very successful products that created paradigm shifts, but more so because of the tremendous value and differentiation they offered the customers. For example, in mid 80’s, Pro/ENGINEER the 3D mechanical design software from PTC was the pioneer in creating this market segment by switching a lot of users from AutoCAD 2D design software to 3D. It was hard to use, it was expensive, it needed designers to completely switch their ways, but the design benefits were very obvious to those users that switched (and not to mention PTC’s very aggressive marketing and sales force). But paradigm shifts are rare. I am not suggesting that you do not innovate and create new ways to solve existing problems, but new ways should always have easily understood customer benefits. Otherwise, you will face adoption resistance.

You could also argue that one could launch a product and let the customer community take the role of helping you discover problems the product could solve. Yes and No. I would argue that it needs to solve one particular customer problem well enough to get noticed even by the early adopters. Unless you do this, no one is going to even consider buying/using your product. Unless this happens, no one is going to help you shape the future of the product to solve other problems it could potentially solve. I will draw an analogy – does anyone ever get out of the house and start driving hoping that you will end up somewhere nice by chance. Not very likely. But we are willing to take such a risk developing products, hoping that we will strike rich?

In this day and age of the internet and its free products, there are companies that have created free products that have sustained themselves for very long (Facebook and Twitter come to mind), but in the long run even these companies have to figure out ways to monetize their business to survive (and by the way, the world is still watching as to how Facebook and Twitter are going to do just this.)

2) What should be a product manager’s role in a startup given that everyone wears multiple hats and the distinction between Product Management/Marketing and Architecture/Development is blurred?

The roles of Product Management/Marketing are blurred primarily because the industry does not have consistent job descriptions for these roles. In some companies, Product Marketing does market sizing, segmentation, positioning and pricing decisions and Product Management figures out the customer problems in the selected segment and then works with engineering to make sure the right and usable product is being built. In other companies, all of this ends up with the Product Manager and this is usually true during the early days of a startup.

But are there limits to what the product manager needs to do, such that he/she is not spread too thin? Yes, there are. I tend to use a very simple litmus test to determine activities in which a product manager must be involved – Does this activity help the product manager in listening to the market and making sure that the right and usable product is being built? If the answer is No, free up your time by getting it off your schedule.

I would especially shy away from getting involved in architectural and development related decisions for a very good reason. As a product manager, it is your role to think like a customer and then inform engineering what problems need to be solved and how. You can advise engineering in terms of customer expectations in terms of scalability and performance. But it should be engineering’s sole responsibility to figure out how to architect/design the product to solve the problems a product manager has identified. If you get involved in the latter, very quickly you are going to look at problems in terms of implementation details rather than from a customer’s perspective. Not a good idea.

Having said this, I will not hire a product manager if he/she is not ready to wear multiple (but relevant) hats even in a mature organization, leave alone a startup. Product manager’s role is one of the most cross-functional roles in an organization. Hence, by definition, such a role requires one to wear multiple hats, supporting sales, supporting marketing efforts, making sure the right product is being built by engineers and so on.

Thoughts? Comments? What have you learnt from your experience as to what works and what does not?

gopalshenoy7Gopal Shenoy is a Senior Product Manager at OnForce, an online marketplace for IT/Consumer Electronics services, based in Lexington, MA. He has 15 years of experience in product management of software products primarily for small businesses having worked at companies such as SolidWorks, RSA Security and Salary.com. He is an avid blogger on product management related topics on his personal blog at http://productmanagementtips.com.

Picture credit: Author

Stop Perfuming the Pig: Why “real” marketing is done before the product is created

No amount of perfume can overcome the stench of a technology product that people don’t need. By Steve Johnson

expertszon1There’s a problem in the industry today…

 According to research from executive search firm Spencer Stuart, the average Chief Marketing Officer  in a technology company can expect to stay in the job for 23 months.1 That’s half the time we expect  for CEOs and COOs. Why is a CMO’s job in such jeopardy? Invariably, this short tenure is the result of  the CMO’s inability to meet unrealistic demands of the job-expectations that are in fact impossible.  The CMO fails to create the need for your company’s product.

 Unfortunately, people don’t need what they don’t need.

 In effect, CMOs have been hired to perfume the pig. Product Marketing is relegated to delivering the  product to market without clarity on the problem and who wants to solve it.

Alas, no amount of perfume can overcome the stench of a technology product that people don’t need.

Your founder (of Pragmatic Marketing: Subrata), a brilliant technician, started the company years ago when he quit his day job to market his idea full time. He created a product that he just knew other people needed. And he was right. Pretty soon he delivered enough of the product and hired his best friend from college as VP of Sales. And the company grew.

But before long, the VP of Sales complained, “We’re an engineering-led company. We need to become customer-driven.” And that sounded fine.

Except… every new contract seemed to require custom work. And you signed a dozen clients in a dozen market segments. And the latest customer’s voice always dominated the product plans. You concluded that “customer-driven” means “driven by the latest customer” and that can’t be right.

Later, a board member declared, “We’ve become a sales-led company. We really need to start being marketing-driven.” So you hired a brand specialist away from a consumer company as VP of Marketing. She designed a new corporate logo with a new color scheme, the collateral, and the trade show booth. Everyone got new company icons on their clothing. Except… you spent millions on the logo but without any change in revenues. Apparently, branding isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be, eh?

The CFO whispered to the founder, “Don’t you think it’s time that we started controlling costs?” So the company became cost-driven and started cutting all the luxuries of the business, like travel, technical support, bonuses, and awards dinners. And Marketing. The CFO asked, “What do those marketing people do?” and since no one had a good answer, the CFO deleted the marketing budget and fired all the marketing people.

Eventually, the president and founder said, “We’ve tried being sales-driven; we’ve tried being marketing-driven; we’ve tried being cost-driven. It’s time to get back to our roots and become engineering-driven again.”

Actually, no, that’s the wrong conclusion.

Many companies move through this cycle: from being led by Engineering, Sales, Marketing, Finance, and back to Engineering again. We go from technology-driven to customer-driven to brand-driven to cost-driven and back to technology-driven.

Until… someone decides to be market-driven.

The way to break the cycle of dysfunction is to stop listening to each other and start listening to the market. Listening to the market means first observing problems in the market and then solving them.

I’m convinced that developers, engineers, and executives want to be market-driven. They just don’t want to be driven by marketing departments.

There’s a big difference between listening to the market and listening to the marketing department. The problem is, marketing people don’t buy our product. Nor do most of them understand the product. In fact, many marketing people deserve all the respect that they get- which is none.

What is marketing anyway?

A Director of Marketing asks me to talk to her management. She tells me that her executives “just don’t get marketing.” Then she starts reminding me about the importance of awareness and “buzz” and exposures… and I realize that I agree with her management: she doesn’t “get” marketing either. She’s not talking about marketing; she’s talking about promotion.

Marketing directors frequently ask, “What percentage of revenue should I allocate for my marketing budget?”

Do you mean the marketing budget or the promotion budget? A promotion budget reflects the product strategy; the marketing budget defines the product strategy. The marketing budget should contain market research; the promotions budget contains marketing research. Which is right?

If you’re in maintenance mode and just want to keep your existing customers, a promo budget of 3-5% of revenue is plenty; keep the cash cow alive. But what if you’re in a market-share fight? If your strategy is striving for dominance in the market, you might spend more in promotions than your entire corporate revenues. In a drag race, you’re not interested in optimizing fuel efficiency or ensuring good tread wear on the tires. You are literally burning through resources to win the race.

For the first few years, Amazon lost money on every book sold. They were in a drag race for market dominance. Before AOL became a party joke for acquiring Time Warner and then being eaten up by it, AOL spent millions on the ubiquitous install disk everywhere you looked. AOL was in a drag race to be everyone’s on-ramp to the internet. AOL and Amazon each spent more on promotions than on development. And each became number one in their space.

So, what is your strategy?

“Uh-oh. We don’t seem to have one of those. Can I just budget a percent of revenue?”

Okay here’s an answer: spend 10% of your revenue target on promotion if you don’t have a strategy. (And then seek employment with a company that does have a strategy.)

The real problem facing tech companies (and life sciences and web 2.0 and, okay, well almost everybody) is that they’re not doing marketing; they’re only doing promotion.

I’m not saying that promotion is a waste of time or money or talent. Indeed, I have worked with many fine promotional professionals. But promotions isn’t marketing; promotion is marketing communications.

Peter Drucker makes it clear that marketing isn’t a product promotion strategy; it’s a product definition strategy, that “marketing” is creating a product that sells itself, creating a product that people want to buy; creating an environment that encourages people to buy.

Over the years however, industries and agencies and marketing experts have worn away the original meaning of marketing and cheapened it. Marketing now means many things to many people but apparently not what Drucker meant. For most people nowadays, marketing means t-shirts, coffee mugs, trinkets, trade show trash, and tchotchkes.

I attend many marketing conferences and invariably find that I’m the only one in attendance who seems to be talking about products; everyone else is talking about promotion. At one such marketing conference, an attendee in the front row asked every single speaker, “How does what you’ve talked about generate awareness and leads?” He didn’t know what to ask me because I hadn’t once used any of the marketing keywords: awareness, leads, campaigns, programs, spin, or buzz. Apparently to him I was a product guy and not a marketing guy. But promotion isn’t marketing.

Sales isn’t marketing

Sales isn’t marketing either. Many people equate marketing with sales. And many salespeople do, too. Some salespeople are so embarrassed by their profession that they’ve taken a new title: marketing rep. Look at the number of business cards that do not reference sales but some other moniker instead. Do you get paid a commission on your personal sales of product? If yes, then you’re a sales rep.

Many believe that salespeople are the best source for product ideas. After all, they’re talking to customers all the time! But talking is the key word. They are talking to the customer about the existing products, not listening for what products they should build. Yes, salespeople are a valuable source of product information but not the only source.

There are two ways of using salespeople in a company: there’s selling and there’s “not their job.” When we invite salespeople for guidance on events or product features, we’re asking them to stop selling and start focusing on “not their job.” Assessing marketing programs or product feature sets or proposed services or pricing are all “not selling” and therefore “not their job.” We invite salespeople to help us because they know more about the market than the people at corporate. But the VP of Sales does not pay salespeople to be strategic. She pays them to sell the product. If salespeople want to be involved in these activities, they should transfer to Product Management; I’m sure there’ll be an opening soon.

In the classic 4P’s (product, promotion, price, place), salespeople are the last P, not the first. We want them to be thinking weeks ahead, not years ahead. We want them selling what is on the price list now, not planning what we ought to have. Selling isn’t marketing; it’s selling.

Instead, we should rely on Product Management to focus on next year and the year after, to be thinking many moves ahead in the roadmap instead of only on the current release.

PR and advertising aren’t marketing either

In the old days, public relations and advertising were the biggest parts of a marketing budget. These two promotions techniques were pretty much the only way back then to reach customers, so PR and advertising became synonymous with marketing. But PR and advertising are promotion techniques. They are two ways-and fairly ineffective ones at that-to communicate the message to the market.

John Wanamaker (considered the father of modern advertising) quipped, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, and the trouble is, I don’t know which half.” Is marketing the same as advertising? Marketing directors and ad agencies apparently think so. So do PR firms. Advertising and PR are the old way of marketing. They’re still trying to get your message in publications that no one reads.

And these same firms are trying to make sense of the new media-video, webinars, podcasts-but with the old mindset. For them, marketing is media, not message.

“Marketing” has come to mean “communicating our message.” But who is defining and delivering the basis of our message? That is, who is defining the product? Marketing communications is about promoting our message; it’s about “how” to communicate. Where is the “what” to communicate?

The first time I met with an agency was a complete head-trip; it was truly surreal. I felt like I was the only sane person in the room! The agency rep started asking me questions like:

  • tell me about your buyer
  • tell me what your buyer reads
  • tell me what trade shows your buyer attends
  • tell me who influences your buyer

In effect, tell me how to reach your buyer, how to promote your product to the buyer. In some confusion, I asked, “Aren’t you interested in my product?” “Oh no,” he replied. “We don’t need to know the product to define your product message. This is called ‘marketing.'” (Can’t you just imagine the agency guy making little quotes with his fingers when he said “marketing”?)

The old agency approach is based entirely on the “art” of communication. They interview a few execs within the company, find a concept they understand, exaggerate the heck out of it, and that’s the message. Is that “marketing”? No.

Some call it “creative.” I call it “ignorance.”

In another agency experience, I provided a set of personas (profiles of likely buyers and users of the product) and positioning (product message and description). The agency’s creative people were speechless; no client had ever before provided such information. The result was they got to work right away without spending months on concepts, hoping to stumble across one that works.

Marketing is knowing what to build and for whom-and frankly, the rest is easy.

The marketing mix isn’t marketing

Remember Father Guido Sarducci from the first years of Saturday Night Live? He offered a Five Minute College that taught everything that the typical college graduate remembers ten years after leaving college. Economics? “Supply and demand.” Business? “Buy low, sell high.”

Marketing? In my meetings with executives, I ask, “What is marketing?” and I usually get a Father Guido Sarducci answer: “It’s the 4P’s.” But then, the executives can’t remember any of the Ps so they start calling out any words that start with the letter “P.”

What we learned about marketing in college doesn’t seem to apply any longer. We learned the 4P’s or the Marketing Mix. Over the years, people added more and more words that start with the letter P to the marketing mix. People. Pricing. Positioning. Personas. PowerPoint. Prayer.

What’s missing is the Problem.

Problem

The first and most important consideration for any business is the market problem. It’s the problem that drives the product decisions, the message for positioning, and the key elements of selling-the placement strategy. Having identified the problem, the other Ps of the marketing mix become obvious.

Product

The product we build should address a well-understood market problem. What did Drucker say? “The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits him and sells itself.” That is, the product should come from a deep understanding of the market of customers.

Your company founder understood this, perhaps inadvertently. That is, he created a solution to a problem he encountered in his daily life. He built a product and felt sure that others would value it. And apparently he was right, as your company was an overnight success. But the problem was that the second product wasn’t quite as good as the first and the third was a complete disaster. What happened to the president’s innate understanding of the market? Well, he left the market; he became a president. For the last few years, he’s been more focused on hiring and firing and financing and cash flow and compliance and signage and all the other things that fill a president’s days.

But when was the last time he was in the customer’s chair? When did he last write some code? Balance indexes in a database? Backup a file? What does the president know about the real world any more? And his new hobby is cropping up at work, too. Now that he’s sailing his boat or flying his plane, he wants to include nautical or aviation metaphors into the products and into the promotions.

Engineers tend to be perennial inventors. They’ve always got a great idea of a new feature, a new product, or a new technology. And it’s natural.

In an IEEE paper, Albert Ehrenfried declared, “Too many products are developed to satisfy the desires, urges, and hunches of people within the company, rather than to meet the specific needs of the market external to the company. Products grow out of the desire to tinker, or because an engineer sees a purely technical challenge.”2

Sound familiar? Ehrenfried wrote this paper in 1955-over fifty years ago. I guess the technology world hasn’t changed very much after all. Yet one CTO said to me, “Steve, you just don’t understand innovation. We’re solving problems that people don’t even have.”

Umm. How’s that working for you?

The best engineers and developers are problem-solvers. If we start the marketing mix with the market problem, inventors can-and will-focus on solving real problems.

Promotion

With a problem-solving product in hand, the promotion is fairly straightforward. Just go ask people if they have the problem and then show how you solve it. It’s that easy.

Do you remember the introduction of Hotmail? There was a problem in the industry: it was hard to access your personal email account from within the company firewall and besides, company email wasn’t really confidential so you couldn’t easily send your resume to a potential employer from your current employer’s email account. Hotmail gave you free, private email… and each message you sent to your friends came with your implicit endorsement. Nobody had to generate “buzz” for it; Hotmail became an overnight success because it solved a problem and had the necessary promotion built right into each message. Did they need to create the need? Nope. They didn’t promote the product at all; they just gave it to a few hundred customers who told two friends who told two friends, and so on and so on…

When Google Mail became available, I was fairly unimpressed. Ugh, yet another mail program. And I knew I wouldn’t like a mail program that didn’t have folders! Or so I thought. Once I had a few hundred messages, I realized that folders are irrelevant if you can search quickly. I don’t need folders in Gmail because Google can actually find messages-faster than I can file them into folders. The reason we need folders in Microsoft Outlook is that you can’t find anything using the search tools provided by Microsoft. Happily, you can use Google Desktop Search to find the Outlook messages that Microsoft can’t find.

Build a product that people want to buy and they’ll dig it. The new rules of marketing are basically the same as the old rules of marketing.

Have something to talk about and people will listen.

Place

Have you ever been in Sales? It’s hard to live with your house payment on the line every month. It’s particularly hard when you don’t really believe that your product has value.

Incredibly, many salespeople don’t believe that their product has any value to the client. How sad is that?

The really sad part is that many tech products don’t actually have value. They solve problems that people don’t have. Or they solve the problem incompletely. So I guess I understand why salespeople feel they have to sell product futures and make promises that the product can’t keep.

But we can place a fair amount of the blame for our product failures on salespeople themselves. Maybe if they didn’t distract the company with “deal of the day,” the developers could actually finish 100% of the functionality needed by a specific market segment. Yet even if the company has indeed created the ideal product set for a well-defined market segment, the sales team sells the product into another segment. After all, for a sales guy, anyone who calls back is a qualified prospect.

I don’t truly blame the sales guys-they do what they do. I do, however, blame sales management. The VP of Sales (or if not the VP, then the CEO) should reject deals that are not in the segment.

The real problem is this: the company engaged a sales group before they had clarity on the problem they were solving, before they had a complete product, and before they had the promotions in place to support a repeatable sales process. They built an incomplete product and hired salespeople to sell it. They hoped the sales team could generate short-term revenues without interfering with long-term viability and they lost.

Hope is not a strategy.

The truth is that we shouldn’t engage a sales team until we have a repeatable sales process for all the buyer personas in a well-defined market segment. Place is the fourth P, not the first.

Product management is a game of the future. Product managers who know the market identify and quantify problems in a market segment. They assess the risk and the financials so we can run the company like a business. They communicate this knowledge to the departments in the company that need the information so that products and services that actually solve a known market problem are built-so that we can expand our customer base profitably.

Companies fail when they employ marketing without market, when we worry more about promotion than problem, when we focus more on selling than solving. That is, we fail when we deliver products without market knowledge.

 

Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson is a recognized thought-leader on the strategic role of product management. Broadly published and a popular keynote speaker, Steve has been a Pragmatic Marketing instructor for more than 10 years and has personally trained thousands of product managers and hundreds of senior executive teams on strategies for creating products that people want to buy.

Prior to joining Pragmatic Marketing, Steve practiced the discipline of product management for over 18 years at a variety of software and hardware firms, moving from development to sales to product management, and ultimately to head of marketing for a enterprise software provider

Steve writes the Product Marketing Blog

Hierarchy of Equals: Mahesh Ramakrishnan

expertszonThe traditional pyramidal team structure is outdated. Though the arrangement has served the IT industry well so far, we need something else to take us into the future.

With ever dwindling margins in IT services it is imperative for organizations, especially in India, to build innovative software products and services that would command premiums and ensure robust profitability.

The pyramidal team structure is inflexible and ineffective in anything but the most industrialized domains, and software product engineering is least amenable to industrialization.

My small team of 10+ serves over a couple of thousand users with our product offerings. We are based out of Bangalore, India and most of the clients based in the US. Our usual functions include envisioning the roadmap, participating in pre-sales processes, rolling out to new clients, maintaining and enhancing current installations, production support and providing inputs to the finance team. Basically the whole gamut of activities in running a product.

With a variety of factors- different time-zones, no face contact with customer, accent differences etc. not in our favor, the way we organize and manage ourselves has critical impact on our ability to meet and exceed customer expectations.

The key factor that drives this is in how we organize ourselves. From that emerges a host of required patterns that are instrumental to our success.

Patterns for Winning Product Teams

Activity based leadership

A static pyramidal model has is too straight jacketed to serve diverse opportunities for product growth. We follow a model where each team member ‘owns’ a particular function or client. While it resembles a traditional model, it differs in the sense of being dynamic in execution. I might be the product manager normally, but can play a senior developer role under the ‘owner’ of that particular feature. Such an activity based leadership allows most team members to be groomed into leaders and allows other senior folks to have a low level perspective first hand.

We call this the hierarchy of equals. The person most skilled to do a job takes the leadership role. And is willing to be subservient in another role in a different context.

All decisions will typically be made by the owner of that initiative, usually after discussions with other relevant team members. Which leads us to the next point.

Collaboration and Consensus

In a situation where a person is new to the role it is essential to mentor and groom them in the process. Or if the problem has many aspects, then it becomes necessary to have all relevant team members weigh in with their views. Instead of an arbitrary fiat, consensus becomes the way forward, aided by collaboration within the team.

Collaboration requires transparency, which is the next item.

Transparency

The key to good decision making in such a fluid team structure is transparency, to ensure complete information flow about all the nuances of the problem. Be it an irate customer, the expectations of senior management or even organizational process hurdles, each of these is approached collectively by the team. If we have to take shortcuts, either in product implementation or managing external expectations, both are done with the clear understanding and buy in from the team.

This assumes that each member of the team has a wide understanding of the product envisioning and delivery process. This is our next pattern.

A continuum of skills

A narrow role definition of a QA or a developer of a small function does not provide people with the best context to contribute to the success of the product. Enable people to play a variety of roles within the team. We have QA folks who manage client relationships, do product roll-outs, conduct product training and pre-sales demos. Each of these non-core activities widens their understanding of what makes the product tick. Instead of a being restricted to a skill silo, we now have multi-skilled people who do their core functions better after viewing the product in a different light.

Acquiring such skills is not a easy matter, especially if it requires traditionally introspective folks to be extroverted in dealing with customers or participate in pre-sales processes. We need people with ambition to grow.

Ambitious

This entire model does not tick if people are not ambitious. To re-invent and re-learn skills quite divergent from the core skill is trait few posses. And it is essential for rest of the team to believe in the individual who goes through the re-skilling process. Through all this pain of change, ambition can act as a strong motivating factor.

With ambition so plainly laid out, there has to be a moderating factor, and this is political savviness!

Politically savvy

All this change and adrenalin of swimming against the tide of mediocrity produces tension, both within and without the team. It requires political savviness to deal with inter team issues that would invariably crop up or to deal with stakeholders who want things just done and care a hoot about how you organize the team or even with customers who want the product delivered to them yesterday.

Managing these often conflicting priorities require people and political savviness. And what good is savviness without the ability to communicate in an articulate fashion?

Articulate

Much depends on the leader’s ability to communicate within and without the team. To sell a new product vision to stakeholders, to convince a potential customer about the strengths of your product, to generate internal buy-in to a new process initiative. Each of these require the ability to articulate a vision and initiate discussions on how the team might get there.

All of the above factors could merely be accidents of people and circumstances, the entire approach could go in flames one fine day. What will determine the eventual success of the team is the next quality.

Resilient

Every failure and stumbling block to an overarching ambition can be a lesson learnt, the tuning of the team into a fine instrument to build, own and sustain a successful product. Take a long term perspective and do not judge your progress by the fruits of a momentary setback. Identify the weakness and address it. Refine your strategy, process and mindset. A healthy dose of resilience is all that is required to turn every situation around.

There is a ton of detail we could cover, especially on the people recruitment and mentoring front, in how customer management is done from a remote location from another time-zone, how we manage innovation etc. But all these essentially are built upon the first tenet of having a hierarchy of equals, to believe in the best people and enable them to exceed every expectation. 

About Mahesh Ramakrishnan

 Mahesh manages a Research authoring and workflow product for Thomson Reuters. Adept at both  business and technology aspects of Product Development, Mahesh brings about an unique value to the  table. He runs a professional blog as well one that borders on philosophy and mythology from around  the world.

Announcing Intellectual Diversification

Sometime during the week, this blog will start carrying posts from people other than I. I hope this new addition will allow readers to get new perspectives on issues that experts have found important to write about. Additionally, this opening up allows an intellectual diversification to topics that I honestly was not capable of writing eruditely about.

The section will be called “Expert Zone” and will have its own visual badge. All posts will be fully attributed to the contributor, including photographs, bios and links. If you wish to contribute please drop me a note.