Product Discovery – a collaborative effort

Sometime back I attended a session on Product Management by an industry expert and had some good take-aways. Ill focus on the area of “Product Discovery” in this post. It takes a very collaborative approach in the whole Product Discovery process.

The Product Discovery process looks to evaluate your product idea and provides a framework to validate whether it is worth investing time and resources on building it. The starting point of this process is a Product Idea and the end goal is a “Build” or “Not build” decision for that idea.

The idea is to form a Core Product Team comprising the Product Manager, the Technical Architect and the User Experience Designer who work together to validate the idea from the perspective of “Valuable, Feasible and Usable”. As you have probably guessed, each of the team member approaches the idea and validates it from that perspective.

The PM is largely responsible for deciding if its Valuable – Is it a real customer pain point and does the product that you intend to put out solve the problem effectively.

The Technical Architect is responsible to decide if its Feasible – Is it possible to build a product based on the limitations that exist within the ecosystem and the organization – within the given time and the organization’s technology capability.

The User Experience Designer validates the Usable angle – Is the product envisioned Usable enough from the customer angle. Is it too complicated for anyone to use.

Again the entire process is very collaborative and iterative. Based on these, you come up with prototypes which you will run through potential customers. It is recommended that you have about 6 potential customers that you work with to validate this prototype. The thought being that anything much less than this will end up being a “customer specific solution” as against a product that delivers value to a customer segment. The good part is not a single line of code has been written by Engg until this point – QA or Ops hasnt yet been involved.

The idea of this process is not necessarily to sign off with a “Build” decision, but to help you rapidly validate your product ideas in an inexpensive manner. It also enables you to quickly drop ideas that wont work and focus your energies on other one. While this is not a fail proof way of building products, it sure gives you a better shot at rolling out something that will meet customers’ needs

 

NWritings

An irate customer…. a great opportunity

Irate customers….It happens with every product, irrespective of how long the product has been in the market or the number of customers you have. Products sometime just doesnt work the way they are intended to and someone who has paid to buy it is not happy. In some cases, the issue is not even with the product – the customer screwed up or tried to use it in a manner that it was not intended to be used.

But as product owners, you and your team can actually turn this into a great opportunity. You can convert him to become a happier customer than he would have been if he had not had this problem in the first place.

Here are some of the things that we did which seemed to help in converting him into a strong advocate. While large business may find these hard to follow due to the sheer scale of operations, small and even medium businesses should benefit from these recommendations.

1. Take it head on – Respond immediately – with an email or a call. Definitely call if you have a contact number. Between his reporting this issue and getting a response, hes unable to use a product that he has paid for and thats bad news – for you. The immediate response just tells the customer that you are willing to stand behind your product and that help is on its way. Its an assurance and a strong message. As I had mentioned in one of my earlier posts, this immediate response is relevant even if you dont have a solution ready yet. Call and tell him that you will look into it and provide a solution as soon as you can. Even go ahead and provide the name and contact number of the support personnel who will be responsible for solving this issue. Automatic email response doesnt replace this. Auto response tells him that he support request has been “received”. The personal response that Im talking about tells him that someone is “looking into it”. There is a big difference.

2. Dont shift the blame – The response call is a bad time to tell him that it was HIS mistake that the product is not working, even if it is. Dont ask him if he read the documentation (not many people do… and again its a bad time to ask this). You may remind him about the documentation AFTER solving his issue
(for future reference), but not now – when he’s still irate. “No one else has reported this issue” again is a bad thing to say. Direct statements like, “We screwed up” or “Sorry, it is our mistake” convey a clear message that you are willing to own up and are committed to resolving the issue.

3. Follow it up to closure – If the issue is going to take a few days or weeks to fix, keep the customer updated on the progress. Having a product that isnt working is bad… but his not having a clue on when it will be fixed is unacceptable – and a sure way to drive customers away. Ensure that the customer has a single point of contact to get updates from. Even after the issue is resolved, ask for confirmation if you can actually close the issue ticket. The customer raised the issue and he has to sign off to close it.

4. Call back to check – Evolve your own schedule to call back customers after the issue has been resolved to check if they were happy with solution and more importantly the way your overall support system responded to him. Ask if he has been able to use the product as intended since. By now, you have a general sense whether the customer is really willing to put the whole thing behind and whether your support process works.

“How many ‏irate customers are being converted into strong advocates” is a great way you measure the effectiveness of your customer support process. Strong advocates talk to their friends positively about your product, give you inputs to improve your product, are willing to be reference customers or even sign up say nice things in your press release. Start building your pipeline of Strong Advocates…. and Irate Customers are a great place to start that with.

 

– NWritings

Piracy – Demanding innovation?

The problem of piracy is omnipresent in emerging countries like India. If you walk though any major street in Bangalore you can see the obvious examples of piracy sales which include books, movie CDs, games and software. Global organizations see this as a problem. In my opinion, piracy is another opportunity which needs innovation to open up new market opportunities. This long debated, controversial item is very much part of life in a country like India. When a much hyped movie hits the box-office, the pirated version in form of DVD, can be bought off the streets at a throw away price within few days. Copyright is taken for granted, even though there are laws to prevent this issue. It might look simple to look at, but piracy has become an organized industry in India.

Piracy
Piracy in India

The software piracy rate is growing at double digit rate especially in the operating systems domain. Purchasing original version of Windows is almost unheard, as most PC vendors install pirated version by default. Security precautions and patch mechanisms that Microsoft applies are overridden by even smarter ideas. There are multiple questions and arguments can be applied to this: Are we are not giving due importance to original versions? Is it the way we are wired? Should the regulatory systems be blamed? Are we bad people? Not necessarily. The answer is simple — we are not ready to pay for anything upfront if it costs more than we can afford. In a country with per capita income is about 35,000 rupees, how can we expect anyone to pay 10% to purchase the original version of Windows or 1% to purchase original version of a book? At the same time we cannot ask the educated elite of the urban population to buy the original version because they have more disposable income. They constitute only 2% population, who also tend to go with the trend. Even if they buy original versions, it cannot be a viable business proportion for organizations.

In a different perspective, in my opinion piracy is another form of an opportunity, which needs innovative methods to address. More piracy means people want a particular product desperately, which serves their need. Just because they cannot afford or got used to it, piracy takes the center stage. Innovation in terms of pricing, business model & offering need to be applied. The focus should be given on how to make things easily affordable by taking ‘micro-consumers to micro-payments’ model. Let us take the example of Indian mobile service provides. They have pre-paid plans for as low as five rupees (micro-payment), which work out for a daily eager (micro-consumer). Now companies like Tata DoCoMo have innovated even further by offering one second pulse, which is much different from minute based rates. With the sheer scale in sales, mobile service provides are getting their profits. In fact India is the fastest growing mobile market in the world. If the rate plans are in thousands, it would have been used only by the elite resulting in a very smaller market.

Similar approach should be taken for other businesses like book publishing (on-demand customized prints at affordable prices), software (subscription model bundled with technical support & upgrade) and on-demand digital movies (finding out alternative delivery and recovery models using upcoming technologies like DTH). The cost of it should be as low as a customer what a customer pays for a pirated version. Then only it can make a viable business proposition. Organizations need to develop deeper knowledge of the nature of customers than educating the customers about piracy. Understanding customers and their needs has been successfully done in some businesses (like mobile service providers mentioned above) but there is still a huge market waiting to be tapped across industries demanding ‘customer centric’  innovation.

In conclusion, I would say piracy is another form of opportunity. But where is the innovation?

[MyBangalore] Link to original version of this Article

Retailing – Mallu Chettan way!

About 5 years back the organized retail was portrayed as the ‘next-big-thing’. Big players (like Reliance) were flocking into this space, where many of us (including me) feared that small retail shops (run by fellow mallu chettan/annachi) will vanish overnight. However, today its totally different picture, where small players not only survived, but also came out stronger and bigger businesses. In my neighborhood, three major players (Reliance Fresh, More & Smart) opened up retail outlets within 1 kilometer distance. Mallu chettan’s store is also located between them, who was expected to go back to Kerala within months after big players stepped in. But in reality the opposite happened! More outlet has already shut-down and I could hardly see any growth with Reliance Fresh & Smart. Whereas chettan, shop has grown leaps-and-bounds. How chettan got it right? Here are my observations.

Annachi retail
Annachi retail

Retailing means relationship: Unlike western countries, in India, retailers have stronger relationship with customers. Every time I walk into a chettan shop, he welcomes me with warm smile and his employees connect well with every other member in the family. I know cases (in my native town), where the retailer was even invited to family functions. There was an instance, where we requested chettan to keep his shop open for some more time in the night, so that we can purchase milk for my little one when we were returning back from travel. Such strong customer connection is totally non-existent in retail shops run by big players. They hardly have eye-contact with customers, let alone building relationship.

0% labor attrition: In chettan’s shop literally there is no attrition. The main reason being,all of his employees belong to his native place, who are mainly recruited thro’ family connections & network. All employees stay together in a shared accommodation, which creates a better linkage among them. In few cases he also has arrangement, where some portion of employee salary is directly sent to their families/parents back home. Because of such strong engagement, there is no attrition. As a customer, when you walk into the top you see familiar faces every time. On the other hand, organized retail industry is facing double digit attrition for years together.

Customer experience: Thanks to high labor attrition, every time big retailers bring new people who are not trained well. They don’t know which section is located where and how to help the customer to choose what they want. Manier times I have seen sales person struggling thro’ the items or re-directing to a different person (you know..its not my job BS) which doesn’t provide good customer experience. In chettan’s shop, every person knows in and out of various sections and they go thro’ regular section rotation. Most of the times I have seen these folks walk along with me and help to choose & purchase items. Strong employee connection results in providing better customer experience.

Divide and conquer: This is another interesting strategy that chettan has adapted. Among his employees if he finds a high potential individual, he funds them and helps to open up a shop nearby in a non-competing space. For example, I am seeing former employees of chettan opening cloth & novelty stores nearby. This has created a “win-win” situation where chettan has aided his employees becoming entrepreneurs and enjoys a major stake in the new business. By creating different shops serving different needs of the customer, he has literally captured a huge market in my locality. I am not sure such strategies can even applied in retail shops run by big players.

The above mentioned points are my observations from my neighborhood retailer. This will not be true for all cases, also such model cannot scale well across different cities & branches. However there are very small but significant lessons that big retailers should learn ,so that they can really succeed in the long run. After all the purpose of real value is as perceived by customers!

Retailing – Mallu Chettan way!

 

About 5 years back the organized retail was potrayed as the ‘next-big-thing’. Big players (like Reliance) were flocking into this space, where many of us (including me) feared that small retail shops (run by fellow mallu chettan/annachi) will vanish overnight. However, today its totally different picture, where small players not only survived, but also came out stronger and bigger businesses. In my neighbourhood, three major players (Reliance Fresh, More & Smart) opened up retail outlets within 1 kilometer distance. Mallu chettan’s store is also located between them, who was expected to go back to Kerala within months after big players stepped in. But in reality the opposite happened! More outlet has already shut-down and I could hardly see any growth with Reliance Fresh & Smart. Whereas chettan, shop has grown leaps-and-bounds. How Chettan got it right? Here are my observations.

 

Retailing means relationship: Unlike western countries, in India, retailers have stronger relationship with customers. Every time I walk into a chettan shop, he welcomes me with warm smile and his employees connect well with every other member in the family. I know cases (in my native town), where the retailer was even invited to family functions. There was an instance, where we requested chettan to keep his shop open for some more time in the night, so that we can purchase milk for my little one when we were returning back from travel. Such strong customer connection is totally non-existent in retail shops run by big players. They hardly have eye-contact with customers, let alone building relationship.

 

0% labor attrition: In chettan’s shop literally there is no attrition. The main reason being,all of his employees belong to his native place, who are mainly recruited thro’ family connections & network. All employees stay together in a shared accommodation, which creates a better linkage among them. In few cases he also has arrangement, where some portion of employee salary is directly sent to their families/parents back home. Because of such strong engagement, there is no attrition. As a customer, when you walk into the top you see familiar faces every time. On the other hand, organized retail industry is facing double digit attrition for years together.

 

Customer experience: Thanks to high labor attrition, every time big retailers bring new people who are not trained well. They don’t know which section is located where and how to help the customer to choose what they want. Manier times I have seen sales person struggling thro’ the items or re-directing to a different person (you know..its not my job BS) which doesn’t provide good customer experience. In chettan’s shop, every person knows in and out of various sections and they go thro’ regular section rotation. Most of the times I have seen these folks walk along with me and help to choose & purchase items. Strong employee connection results in providing better customer experience.

Divide and conquer: This is another interesting strategy that chettan has adapted. Among his employees if he finds a high potential individual, he funds them and helps to open up a shop nearby in a non-competing space. For example, I am seeing former employees of chettan opening cloth & novelty stores nearby. This has created a “win-win” situation where chettan has aided his employees becoming entrepreneurs and enjoys a major stake in the new business. By creating different shops serving different needs of the customer, he has literally captured a huge market in my locality. I am not sure such strategies can even applied in retail shops run by big players.

 

The above mentioned points are my observations from my neighbourhood retailer. This will not be true for all cases, also such model cannot scale well across different cities & branches. However there are very small but significant lessons that big retailers should learn ,so that they can really succeed in the long run. After all the purpose of real value is as perceived by customers!

 

 

Retailing – Mallu Chettan way!

About 5 years back the organized retail was potrayed as the ‘next-big-thing’. Big players (like Reliance) were flocking into this space, where many of us (including me) feared that small retail shops (run by fellow mallu chettan/annachi) will vanish overnight. However, today its totally different picture, where small players not only survived, but also came out stronger and bigger businesses. In my neighbourhood, three major players (Reliance Fresh, More & Smart) opened up retail outlets within 1 kilometer distance. Mallu chettan’s store is also located between them, who was expected to go back to Kerala within months after big players stepped in. But in reality the opposite happened! More outlet has already shut-down and I could hardly see any growth with Reliance Fresh & Smart. Whereas chettan, shop has grown leaps-and-bounds. How Chettan got it right? Here are my observations.

Retailing means relationship: Unlike western countries, in India, retailers have stronger relationship with customers. Every time I walk into a chettan shop, he welcomes me with warm smile and his employees connect well with every other member in the family. I know cases (in my native town), where the retailer was even invited to family functions. There was an instance, where we requested chettan to keep his shop open for some more time in the night, so that we can purchase milk for my little one when we were returning back from travel. Such strong customer connection is totally non-existent in retail shops run by big players. They hardly have eye-contact with customers, let alone building relationship.

0% labor attrition: In chettan’s shop literally there is no attrition. The main reason being,all of his employees belong to his native place, who are mainly recruited thro’ family connections & network. All employees stay together in a shared accommodation, which creates a better linkage among them. In few cases he also has arrangement, where some portion of employee salary is directly sent to their families/parents back home. Because of such strong engagement, there is no attrition. As a customer, when you walk into the top you see familiar faces every time. On the other hand, organized retail industry is facing double digit attrition for years together.

Customer experience: Thanks to high labor attrition, every time big retailers bring new people who are not trained well. They don’t know which section is located where and how to help the customer to choose what they want. Manier times I have seen sales person struggling thro’ the items or re-directing to a different person (you know..its not my job BS) which doesn’t provide good customer experience. In chettan’s shop, every person knows in and out of various sections and they go thro’ regular section rotation. Most of the times I have seen these folks walk along with me and help to choose & purchase items. Strong employee connection results in providing better customer experience.

Divide and conquer: This is another interesting strategy that chettan has adapted. Among his employees if he finds a high potential individual, he funds them and helps to open up a shop nearby in a non-competing space. For example, I am seeing former employees of chettan opening cloth & novelty stores nearby. This has created a “win-win” situation where chettan has aided his employees becoming entrepreneurs and enjoys a major stake in the new business. By creating different shops serving different needs of the customer, he has literally captured a huge market in my locality. I am not sure such strategies can even applied in retail shops run by big players.

The above mentioned points are my observations from my neighbourhood retailer. This will not be true for all cases, also such model cannot scale well across different cities & branches. However there are very small but significant lessons that big retailers should learn ,so that they can really succeed in the long run. After all the purpose of real value is as perceived by customers!

Performance management – Differentiation

Recently my supervisor has started an initiative, where each one of us started sharing details on a particular topic, taking reference from a famous leadership/management book. Based on my recent study, I have come up with a presentation on ‘Differentiation’  by Jack Welch. Have a look at it and let me know what you think.


Innovation – Type 4 – Core process [Case: Mumbai Dabbawalas]

Dabbawala In part four of the innovation series, let us look at Mumbai Dabbawalas who have achieved six sigma quality in delivering lunch boxes without even knowing what it really means.With zero technology backup their value addition comes from their robust core process. Mumbai city’s dabbawalas, now known the world over.

The story behind the Mumbai Dabbawalas is significant for anyone, who wants to understand the importance of processes. Started in 1890 with 35 Dabbawalas (from the nearby villages), today there are 5000 Dabbawalas who deliver 2,00,000 Dabbas every day. Adding to that number is the pickup service they handle everyday which is a total of 4,00,000. This entire process takes a total of six hours covering 70-80 Kilometers every day. There is absolutely no technology used and no educational intelligence behind this success as 85% Dabbawalas are illiterate. With such a complex system they are able to deliver six sigma Quality, which means there could be only one error in 16 million transactions.

The success of Dabbawalas comes from their core process, which provides true value to their offering. This core process is so robust that it has never broken till date. As it has got to do with food ‘timely delivery’ is the key for customer retention and having a business proposition around its delivery. Their estimated total revenue per month is 50 crore with each Dabbawala getting 3000-4000 rupees per month as salary. By using Mumbai public transport system and cycles to pickup Dabbas in the last leg of the chain, they are able to run the business successfully with zero overhead. Added to that, there is no strike record till date, which makes this system all the more reliable.

The heart of the system comes from the innovative coding mechanism and designing the delivery cycle around it. When a Dabbawala picks up the Dabba from his designated area, it has a unique code associated with it, which has details about the destination and how to reach in terms of railway stations. All Dabbas arrive at centralized station, which are sorted quickly and the destination Dabbawala picks them up for delivering at the appropriate location by reading the coding mechanism. As majority of the Dabbawalas are uneducated folks, they are appropriately guided in the initial days to that they read the coding correctly for an error free delivery. This core process of coding the following is in a disciplined way has earned the success for Dabbawalas, which they truly deserve.

Dabba numbering system

Here is how the timings work for Dabbawalas. Each Dabbawala collects Dabbas between 9:30 AM to 10:30 AM from homes, messes or hotels and boards the train which reaches Church-gate station 11:20 AM. These Dabbas are then sorted according to the destination and delivered by 12:30 AM, everything happens on time, without a single error. The same process is reversed for picking up empty boxes which reach the source by 4 PM. The first leg of 9:30 AM to 10:30 AM is the key time slot which they call as ‘war against time’. Because if any single Dabbawala fails at this point it would end up failing the whole chain as they are very closely connected and dependent.

The example of Dabbawalas and their success is mainly because of their core processes and adhering to that as a practice by every individual Dabbawala. Their core offering of delivering lunch boxes on time is achieved simply because of their process. So next time when you are thinking of designing something – be it a software, greeting card or mud pot, think about having a core process around it for consistently delivering value for your customers.

Related links:

[Introduction to ten types of Innovation]
[Innovation – Type 1 – RangDe]
[Innovation – Type 2 – RedBus]
[Innovation – Type 3 – Narayana Hrudhayalaya]

Innovation and its unsung cousin Execution

Everyone loves the word Innovation, including my good friend and co blogger Jayakumar :). Companies love to call their products and solutions as Innovative. It looks terrific on resumes and billboard commercials. MBAs are taught courses on Innovation and as a consequence cannot complete a presentation without using that word at least once.

Now, I personally have nothings against Innovation, but I do believe that many companies focus on this at the expense of something which is as important, if not more – Execution.

Let me provide a broad non-dictionary meaning of what each of this mean, to me:
Innovation – something unique / new, a creative solution, a discovery or an invention.
Execution – Getting it done – efficiently and rapidly, taking things to completion.

The Philips Vs Sony war on the consumer electronics front is a great lesson on the importance of Execution (in addition to Innovation). In the Consumer Electronics front, Philips sets the benchmark when it comes to innovation. Take a look at the list of inventions that they have and its truly inspiring.

http://www.philips.com/about/company/history/keyinventions/index.page

The radio, the television, the magnetic tape and compact disc are inventions of Philips. However, when it comes to making these inventions a marketing success, the Japanese giant Sony has been a much bigger success. They have simply been able to roll these out faster, cheaper and more efficiently to the markets worldwide.

Google’s being able to Execute better on Ovetture’s Innovation of showing ads against a search is another example. Now, this is not to say that Philips cannot Execute or Sony cannot Innovate. I am not discounting Philips’ ability to deliver products or Sony’s “process innovations”. However, it remains that the core strength of Philips and Sony are on Innovation and Execution respectively.

Go ahead Innovate, but also ensure that you can execute on those ideas, roll things out, market it well to ensure that the product succeeds.

 

– NWritings