Change and Product Line Pivots:
Responding to the Covid disruptions.
Large businesses face a demanding challenge. They must work efficiently and carry out change effectively. And they must do both at the same time. The big problem for management teams is that the practices they’ve installed in their companies will do one but not the other. And the problem causes significant challenges for innovation and product management.
Delivering the right products and services at the right time is crucial. Doing this well and doing it repeatedly helps form deep connections with customers. And it helps fend off competitors while driving up revenue. These outcomes are critical to a company’s well-being, especially during the current Covid economic crisis.
Creating and delivering products is where companies must deal with a need for efficiency tied to a demand for change. And it’s at this junction of efficiency and change many companies don’t meet the challenge. They struggle to pull off smart strategy moves and pivots. And they lose opportunities. Plus, without even knowing, companies often cause themselves problems that linger into the future.
The many changes companies face with the Covid economy worsens the efficiency and change dilemma. Never have innovation and product management professionals had greater pressure on them to solve the problem. But to break through the challenge, companies need new tools, new thinking, and a completely new mindset. Let me explain.
The problem starts with single-product thinking. This mindset is the basis for many practices. And it’s the foundation of innovation and product management. You’ll see Screening, Staged Development, and Agile each focus on helping just one product at a time. And the same with Jobs-To-Be-Done, V-O-C, and Design-Thinking. Each practice is based on single product thinking.
The exception is product portfolio management (PPM.) Its job is to plan work across multiple projects. But PPM doesn’t include idea creation or other front-end work. Nor does PPM include in-market product management. Instead, PPM assumes, often incorrectly, that managers agree on a strategy. It then seeks to maximize project work plans based on that strategy. But when viewed from a strategic impact lens, the drawbacks are notable. PPM works to deliver projects, not create more powerful innovations.
The Multi-Product View
Experts in each practice will quickly point out how to use their methods across sets of projects and products, from front-end to back-end. But most companies don’t do it. And there are two good reasons. First, few companies have structures couple to a strong mindset to drive a multi-product approach. And second, the experts didn’t design their practices to integrate with other methods. They didn’t create their practice to support a multi-product approach. And they didn’t seek to address the constraints and opportunities companies face within full product lines.
Multi-product thinking is powerful. When companies use multi-product thinking to drive a product line, they are also creating opportunities for notable gains. But to realize these gains, managers and teams must have a deep understanding of their product line as a system. And they must use an agreed upon strategy to direct the flow of the system’s parts.
A Product Line is a System
The dynamic nature of product lines makes interpreting them as systems a powerful tool. And it’s become essential as the Covid economy creates an inordinate demand for product changes and product line pivots. Systems Thinking enables managers to understand how the different parts and practices affect one another and how their interplay drives the product line’s performance. Plus, the systems view allows managers to see the flow of the parts within the product line and the flow of results from the whole system.
Smart product line systems will deliver a performance that is greater than the sum of its parts. But to do this, teams must focus on creating and boosting the parts, not just managing their interplay. It’s here where the systems approach toward product lines shines. And it’s here where product line strategy genius plays out when one part purposely boosts another part.
The key is to help managers understand their product line as a system. It’s to enable managers to see how parts within a product line can be created and altered purposely to boost one another. It’s to see how the parts playoff one another to drive significant gains from the whole system. For many, learning this is an “aha” moment in product line management.
Responsive Roadmapping Orchestrates the Whole
A product line’s strategy and its roadmap reveal the system’s parts. Changing one part of the product line system can change the whole.
Companies must use creative, analytical, and strategic thinking to advance a product line, not just one product at a time. The job demands teams to form and carry out purposeful strategy moves. This task is demanding. And that’s why Responsive Roadmapping is so helpful. It aids managers to get the job done quickly and effectively.
Responsive Roadmapping uses templates and scrum-like work to guide teams to deliver continuously impactful results. These methods aid contributors to think, plan, and carry out work to improve a product line’s performance. It sets up the best set of jobs and tasks over the correct time frame.
The focus extends beyond a single-product view. Instead, Responsive Roadmapping uses systems thinking to create and re-craft the full set of parts. These parts include Platform-levers and Verb-Based Segments. And they include Concepts and Technologies. See more about product line system parts HERE.
The Product Line Flow is Continuous
To drive superb product line results, companies must create or re-craft system parts. But they must also remove bottlenecks in the system’s flow. It’s a product line’s total flow toward strategy-defined goals that matters most. And Responsive Roadmapping guides managers to do this work.
Responsive Roadmapping helps managers improve a product line’s flow in two ways. First, it aids teams to plan and track work. But second and most important, Responsive Roadmapping equips teams to predict system conflicts and flow disrupters.
Forces and Constraints
Every product line team must manage internal and external forces on their system. Certain forces may drive the product line forward, while other forces constrain the system and work against forward progress. An important principle in Responsive Roadmapping is to understand the forces and how they act on a product line system. See more on common product line system forces HERE.
Plotting a force-field diagram helps teams analyze forces interacting with their product line. But the team should create the plot for both the whole system and for critical parts. The goal is to understand the direction and magnitude of each force. And the purpose is to create a recourse that reduces negative forces and boosts a positive flow.
Spot Roadblocks Early
A key to a productive product line is to spot the parts that work counter to one another. And it’s to see conflicts as early as possible. The impact on the system can be like gears going in opposite directions. And the conflict undermines potential synergy. Such conflicts may be between parts of the same type, like Products, Market Segments, or Platform-levers. Or the conflicts may be caused by parts that cut across the different types.
When conflicts arise related to decisions, work, or knowledge, the flow will be turbulent. But the turbulence doesn’t mean the flow will stop or reverse. Most often, the system’s flow will go forward. But it does so with wasted energy and lost time. By helping teams spot system conflicts before they become problems, Responsive Roadmapping minimizes losses and redirects efforts to boost the product line.
Changing Flawed Assumptions
Product line managers know that nothing stands still. Customer needs, markets, and technologies change. Even whole companies change. It creates an endless stream of knowledge to drive new insights into opportunities and constraints. But there are less visible challenges that also take hold. It’s because every team carries out work based on assumptions. And when change mounts, assumptions eventually falter.
Assumptions provide quick translations of facts and insights. But conflicts arise when assumptions become flawed. And the results can be costly when the conflict clogs a product line system.
The recourse is to guide teams through cause-and-effect analyses. The goal is to help teams better understand the impact of the change on the product line system. Such a focus helps to improve the system’s flow and deliver better results sooner.
Openness Plus Understanding Improves Results
Responsive Roadmapping demands top managers trust all product line contributors. The trust is fundamental because it sets a belief that each contributor seeks to do their best for the system. Yet all contributors may not understand the system the same. Or, they don’t recognize the same parts or their interplay. And to gain a shared view demands openness and deep understanding.
Managers who share a common view of a product line system can better align their decisions and work. And when the common view holds steady, they also deliver greater results. But managers struggle to collaborate when they have different views. This struggle is real even when they share common goals and objectives.
Setting up Responsive Roadmapping is a big job. It starts with building awareness about single vs. multi-product thinking. And it calls for managers to see product lines as systems. The task is to help managers to see the forest (systems) through the trees (products) of their product line work.
Top management must feel pain related to product lines before they support Responsive Roadmapping. In growth markets, the pain radiates from the middle of an organization. This pain is where managers struggle with volumes of disjointed work. But in declining or disrupted markets like many see in the Covid economy, the pain cuts across an organization. And all managers see the drawbacks of using old methods. The methods can’t solve the notable problems when strategy moves and pivots are in demand.
Learning Responsive Roadmapping is best done with teams. This is because a team shares the same product line context to explore system parts and their interplay. Plus, the team can better layout a practical path to building the company’s ability and maturity.
A Call to Action
If the value of Responsive Roadmapping stirs your interest, you’re not alone. Many managers see the need for product changes and product line pivots as we deal with the new Covid economy. But what should you do to learn more, and how do you introduce it to your colleagues, your team, and your organization? I advise you to consider several steps:
Build awareness of the tenants of Responsive Roadmapping…
…and why these are crucial when forming and carrying out smart product line strategy moves and pivots. See more on Responsive Roadmapping tenants HERE.
Examine your company’s innovation and product management practices. …
…Are the practices based on single or multi-product thinking? See more on Single versus Multi-Product Thinking HERE.
Gain a cursory understanding of product line parts and how they work as a system….
Learn why innovation and product development are essential to a product line’s performance…
… But also learn why these parts, by themselves, are not enough to cause a fluid system flow. See More on the Velocity of the Product Line System Flow HERE
Understand the pain of your current state…
…Do you think Responsive Roadmapping will help? Do you think focusing on your product line as a system and then driving the flow is essential?
Share your thoughts on Responsive Roadmapping with your colleagues, and gain their feedback.
Gather your company’s questions about Responsive Roadmapping and reach out to me.
Be responsive, Not Just Resilient
Most companies did a great job being resilient through the first few months of the Covid lockdown. Now, as we move forward, large companies need to slow their burn rate on cash reserves and gain control over debt levels. A key to this game plan will be to boost product and product line performance, a company’s most critical contributors to free cash flow. It calls for product changes and product line pivots. These jobs are demanding. And these are the exact jobs Responsive Roadmapping does actively and purposely.
Please share this article with others should you think your organization should consider Responsive Roadmapping to meet the inordinate change caused by the Covid economy.
I welcome your comments and feedback.
You may reach me at:
paul.oconnor @ adept-plm.com
Adept Group’s Web Contact Here
Or call + 01-904-373-5428