Blog

Rethinking Product Management: How to Get from Start-up to Scale-up

I earn my living as a scaling coach to expansion-stage companies. One of the advantages of my position is that I get a deep, inside look into different industries and businesses. While no two situations are exactly alike, I have seen a consistent yet under-reported issue out there that keeps 9 out of 10 companies from getting out of start-up mode to the next level.

What is it? It’s a breakdown in Product Management.

Assuming that you already have a sound strategy and execution framework in place, if you can get your Product Management function right, you’ll solve a lot of problems inherent in scaling your business. You will also have a much easier time increasing revenue growth, execution speed, agility, and profits. If you don’t get Product Management right, scaling to your potential will be much harder or even impossible.

Before proceeding, I need to call out that the problems and solutions described in this article are only applicable to a company in the late Nail It to early Scale It lifecycle stage of business development:

The Organizational Physics Strategy Map. You'll likely need to redesign Product Management in order to make the leap from Nail It to Scale It. The Organizational Physics Strategy Map. To scale successfully, you’ll need to rethink and redesign Product Management between the late Nail It and early Scale It stages of business development.

In the early start-up stages of a business, Product Management doesn’t need to be a well-defined function. It’s just something that is organically “managed” by a product-savvy entrepreneur. At this stage, there’s a drive to find product-market fit and not much else matters.

But once product-market fit is established and the company is ready to scale up by adding new […]

By |2022-01-03T16:15:46-08:00October 15th, 2015|

Why You Should Not Have a President and COO

Photo credit: AudienceView. Photo credit: AudienceView.

It’s a classic tale. Your company’s driven, visionary founder manages to lead your start up to takeoff and hit rapid growth mode. But then something happens, and everything starts to bog down. Those former start up struggles and early wins turn into a whole new set of challenges: running the business at scale.

At about this time in an organization’s lifecycle, conversations in the board room and around the water cooler start to focus on the founder. See if you’ve said or heard any of these before:

  • Our founder has great energy and ideas (along with some really dumb ideas) but we still can’t seem to get our act together.
  • It’s no secret our founder isn’t an Operations person.
  • We need to either replace our founder or support her with someone experienced who can run day-to-day operations and keep the trains on time.
  • What we need is a President/COO. Then the founder/CEO can be Mr. Outside and the President/COO can be Mr. Inside.

Does any of that sound familiar? I bet it does. On the surface, having a President/COO can make a lot of sense. Every organization needs stability, structure, and experience if it is going to scale up. The approach is certainly popular. “President and COO” titles are so common—throw a stapler in the air at your local office park and you’re bound to hit one on the head.

But hiring a President/COO to solve the “founder” problem typically brings just a new set of problems, setbacks, and even disasters. In many cases I’ve seen, the new President/COO was a sure bet on paper but failed to replicate past successes in a new environment.

In another common scenario, you’ll find that soon after joining, the new President/COO will […]

By |2023-02-09T08:27:19-08:00February 18th, 2015|

The Difference Between Organizational Structure and an Org Chart

“What’s the difference between an organizational structure and an organizational chart? Do you need one or the other—or both—to manage your business?” I get asked different versions of this question a lot. The distinctions are subtle but important. Knowing the answers—and approaching your organizational design the right way—is mission-critical to scaling your business.

The short answer is this. In most cases, if you’re entering a new stage for your business—scaling beyond start-up mode or embarking on a new growth strategy—you’ll need a new organizational design. And when it comes to organizational design, you really only need two things:

  1. A well-designed organizational structure
  2. A “role-centric” human resource management system (HRMS) that mirrors the structure

That’s it. You do not need a classic org chart—that constantly-changing and almost instantly-out-of-date diagram that shows names, job titles, and lines of reporting responsibilities. The org chart tends to quickly become obsolete and leads to a counterproductive focus on who’s where in the organizational pecking order…

You don't want this. You don’t need this. Photo credit Pathfinder.

Trying to maintain a classic org chart—or, heaven-forbid, to redesign your business based on one—causes much more harm than good. So drop the classic org chart and instead embrace the principles of effective organizational structure combined with a role-centric HRMS. Here’s what you need to know…

Are You Attempting to Redesign Your Business from an Org Chart?

It should be intuitive that, in order to manage and scale your business, you need a sound organizational design. As I’ve written in “The 5 Classic Mistakes in Organizational Structure: Or, How to Design Your Organization the Right Way,” everything has a design to it. If your business design sucks, then your execution will too.

Changing an organizational […]

By |2023-09-20T09:07:17-07:00February 9th, 2015|

How to Build Your Buyer Persona: 10 Questions Marketing Should Ask Sales

Sales vs. Marketing Sales vs. Marketing. Who’s the Ape? Does your head of sales think your head of marketing is an imbecile — that they just don’t “get it” and aren’t doing the right things to drive qualified leads for the sales team? Or perhaps your head of marketing looks down his nose at those “apes” in the sales department who constantly demand more results but don’t understand the strategic aspects of real marketing, not to mention the time and money it costs. Sheeezh.

You may not be surprised to hear that this tension between sales and marketing is common. The truth is that, by nature, their functions will always be in tension or conflict. One is short-range-focused, with a drive to close qualified leads NOW. The other should be long-range oriented, developing the brand and product offering to meet evolving customer needs in the future – not just this quarter’s targets. That conflict is never going to go away. And the point I’m going to make in this article is that it can be harnessed.

There is an easy way to address the conflict between sales and marketing and make it constructive for both growing sales and building the brand. It does, however, take awareness and discipline to do it well. The solution is to refocus and get alignment between sales and marketing on the most important question every business must answer: Who is your primary customer? You might think this is obvious, yet a surprising number of B2B marketing companies overlook this step. Or don’t do it adequately.

Who is Your Buyer Persona?

A “buyer persona” is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer — the real buyers who influence or make decisions about the […]

By |2021-05-18T01:52:37-07:00July 7th, 2014|

The Culture System: Or, How to Build a Dynamic Culture

Hint: It’s a system. 
theculturesystem

Key Takeaways:

  • You don’t build a great culture through intention alone. You build it through a culture system.
  • You can’t dictate culture. But you can design for it. A strong culture system is designed around four key elements: Values, Rituals, Stories, and Consequences.
  • To build a better organizational culture, use the culture system framework to focus your energies on improving the weakest element, then improve the next and so on.

When Intention Isn’t Enough

It’s 9am on Monday morning at ACME Widget Corp. The management team is gathered in the 1st floor conference room waiting for CEO Jack Ryan to arrive. A rumor is buzzing around that Jack has spent the past weekend at Culture Summit 2.0, some sort of “interactive experience” where business leaders learn from culture gurus how to build a thriving organization.

A few minutes after 9, Jack, calm and present as always, enters the conference room and gives his hellos. As he is taking his seat, Sally in Marketing says, “Jack, there’s a rumor going around that you attended a corporate culture workshop this weekend? How was it? We’re all curious to know…”

Jack doesn’t answer right away and instead takes time to visually connect and smile at everyone around the table. Finally he speaks. “This was one of the most transformative weekends of my life. It really reinforced for me the importance of values-based leadership and I’ve got a lot of new ideas to try. But the main thing is this: going forward my #1 commitment is to ensure that we truly become a values-based organization. That’s what I’m most committed to and excited about as a result of this weekend.”

Now imagine you’re in that circle and you hear Jack say this. How do you […]

By |2024-02-29T04:22:35-08:00June 29th, 2014|

How NOT to Interview

how not to interviewSometimes the best way to understand what NOT to do in an interview is to go through a bad one yourself. I’ve definitely had this experience. It occurred when I was interviewing for an entry-level sales position with a fast-growing telecom company in Minneapolis, Minnesota. At the time, I was 26 years old, had just shut down my first startup, had burned through all my savings, and was in desperate need of a job.

A friend of mine told me about the firm one night over beers: “Hey Lex, I know you just shut down your startup. Sorry it didn’t work out, man. If you need a job to pay the bills, they’re always hiring where I work. It’s not the best job in the world but the money can be good if you work hard at it.”

The notion of hard work and good money sounded like a pretty good opportunity. I needed something I could throw myself into until I found my footing again. So I called the company the next day, told them I was referred by one of their existing reps, and set an appointment for an interview. To prepare, I practiced my spiel about why I’d be a good fit for their organization, polished up my resume, put on a suit, and went in with a mix of hope, anxiety, and chutzpah.

how not to interviewI arrived at their offices and approached the front desk. The receptionist, middle-aged and blurry-eyed, looked me up and down skeptically and, with a hint of exasperation at having to deal with me, said, “May I help you?”

“Ah yes, I’m here for an interview for a sales position. My name is Lex […]

By |2021-12-12T15:40:05-08:00June 5th, 2014|

When Co-founders Fight — And What To Do About It

why cofounders fight
Being business partners is a lot like being married. When the relationship is thriving, it’s awesome. But when it isn’t, it really sucks. In fact, few things can destroy organizational momentum like two co-founders in a bad relationship. I have a friend in a successful business partnership who puts it like this, “I have two wives. One at home and one at work. I’ve got to invest time and energy to make sure that both stay happy, otherwise, it all goes to s#*&t!”

Not all partner conflict is bad. You actually want constructive conflict in your partnership. Constructive conflict means that you and your partner share the same vision and values; there’s give-and-take; you fiercely debate potential decisions but without attacking each other’s character; there’s a sense of mutual trust and respect; and your individual strengths and styles complement each other. You are both better because of the other.

Destructive conflict, on the other hand, is like a toxic marriage. It eats away at the system from the inside and doesn’t work for anybody. Just as divorcing adults impacts their kids, two co-founders in a toxic relationship impact everyone else in the organization.

If you’re navigating a bad business partnership, or you just want to make sure that your current great partnership remains so, then it can be eye-opening to understand that any destructive partnership conflict falls into just three types. Once you know what type of conflict you’re dealing with, then you can know how to address it.

As you read about each category of destructive conflict below, see if you can recognize where your partnership is experiencing the most strain today. That will tell you where to focus your energy and attention to help the partnership be […]

By |2021-05-18T01:55:56-07:00June 3rd, 2014|

Want to Dent the Future? You Should Probably Get a Coach

My friend and client Russell Benaroya, CEO at Everymove.com spoke this weekend at the second annual Dent the Future conference in Sun Valley.

Russell’s topic was “Entrepreneurs Need Coaches” and I thought he had some great insights that every entrepreneur can benefit from. If you click the link you can read his full commentary on the right hand side of the slides. I’ve also captured some of my favorite highlights from his talk below.


Created with Haiku Deck, the free presentation app

“We are all capable of being champions, in making the impact we want to make. Why not us? Practice! Practice! Practice! But how do you “practice” being an entrepreneur. The plane is in the air. For me, I need ground control, someone that can see the big picture when I’m just focused on the next waypoint. For me, it’s been about surrounding myself with the best coaches I can find.

The only lens that we see of the performers is the result of their practice. The problem is that there is not much of an opportunity to see that lens into ourselves and have it reflected back so that we can learn, grow, and make smarter decisions.

The road of entrepreneurship is just lonely. I did not fully appreciate that I was going to lose so many friends, that I would test my marriage and that I would question my sanity. What saved me? The acknowledgement that I am not alone, that what I am dealing with is a well worn path, that the path is the greatest gift, both the ups and downs. How I stayed on the road? By building a […]

By |2021-05-18T06:49:42-07:00April 1st, 2014|

The Magic Spot in Product Development

What’s more important… following the “Four Steps” or experiencing the genuine epiphany?

It’s the epiphany, right? Right!

I bring this up because I continue to run across product development teams that are so enamored with following a sound lean startup process that they have lost sight of the ultimate objective: building something magical.

Where’s the magic? The magic happens at the nexus between what’s possible, what you’re capable of, and what the client is willing to pay for:

ProductDevelopmentMagic
When you get so consumed by following the right process that you lose sight of the real goal — finding the magic in the middle — you can make yourself look like a bad dog…

wetdream
Don’t purse the wet dream trying to build something that you’re incapable of delivering. It’s a fantasy that will ultimately leave you feeling alone and ashamed.

yawn
Don’t make your clients yawn, only building what they ask for but missing what they’d really love once they experience it.

slowclap
Don’t build for the slow clap, a product that only you are excited by.

Your real objective is always to find the epiphany that reveals the magic in the middle…

puppies
DO build something magical. You know, like puppies. Puppies bring delight. Plus they’re capable of growing through their own lifecycle stages and one day… giving birth to something new and magical themselves.

So the next time you’re in the heat of a product development process, don’t be a bad dog. Keep your eyes on the prize and find the magic […]

By |2021-05-18T01:59:12-07:00March 11th, 2014|

An Inside Look at Holacracy

Zappos-3-MashableThe headlines rolled across my feed like the credits on a blockbuster movie. Something big seemed to be happening but I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. It seemed that Zappos—the popular business management poster child for happy employees and customers—just announced it was adopting some new-fangled “boss-less,” “hierarchy-less,” “structure-less” management system called Holacracy.

“Hola-what?” I said to myself as I started clicking links. Aimee Groth at Quartz wrote: “Zappos is going holacratic: no job titles, no managers, no hierarchy,” while the Washington Post headlined with, “Zappos Says Goodbye To Bosses,” and the Canadian Broadcast Company led with “Holacracy management style eliminates all bosses, titles.”

I’ve been around long enough to know that what the media was reporting would be far removed from the truth. I also had the inkling that the level of publicity that Zappos generates made it likely that Holacracy would become the next buzzword in management in 2014. Paul Herbert captured it well: “A new word crept into HR’s vernacular last week: holacracy. Better get used to seeing it.”

Each year I attend two personal/professional development workshops for my own education and growth. After trying to make sense of Holacracy through their website materials and recorded webinars, in the spirit of exploration I decided to dive deeper and make Holacracy one of my annual workshops. I signed up for their 1/2-day Taster Workshop followed by a 5-day Practitioner Certification Training in Las Vegas hosted by Holacracy founder Brian Robertson.

A few weeks later I hopped in my car to make the trek from my home in Santa Barbara across the desert to Vegas. The seminar turned out to be located just down the block from the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop of History Channel […]

By |2021-05-18T02:00:00-07:00March 9th, 2014|

How to Hire Like the NFL’s Best Teams

NFLShield The NFL is the most popular professional sports league in the United States. In fact, it’s bigger than the next three largest professional sports leagues combined. But when it comes to the field of talent management, what makes the NFL such an interesting case study for businesses of all types and sizes is not its popularity but its parity.

Each season, all 32 NFL teams begin with the same basic chance to be competitive. All teams have a roughly equal amount of money to spend and the same numbers of players to a roster, and the worst teams from last season get higher draft picks and an easier schedule this season. If a team gets “harmed” during free agency, the league will assign it compensatory draft picks to help it stay even.

Parity in the NFL has worked. On any given Sunday, one team can beat another. However, a few teams — despite parity — have been able to win consistently over time. In fact, over the past 13 NFL seasons from 1999 to 2012, just 6 teams out of 32 have achieved a 60% or better winning percentage: the Patriots, Colts, Steelers, Packers, Ravens, and Eagles, with only one team achieving a 70% winning percentage: the Patriots.

Clearly, if everything else is held nearly equal, then these winning teams have cultivated an edge in how they go about managing their business and developing their front office and on-field staff. Is there something you can learn from these consistent winners? And if there is something you can take away, can you actually apply it in growing your own business — a business that probably has just a fraction of the money and assessment resources that an NFL team can throw at the hiring […]

By |2021-05-18T02:00:44-07:00December 6th, 2013|

Africa Rising: An Amazing Story of Sustainable Business Doing Social Good

The image of a dark Africa is going to change radically in the coming years. The image of a dark Africa is going to change radically in the coming years.

If you’re a person who likes to hear about momentous progress happening in the world, then you’re going to like the story that about I’m to share. However, if you’re an entrepreneur who appreciates ingenious solutions to complicated problems, then you’re going to absolutely love it.

It’s the story of one of the most innovative business models I’ve seen in some time. It’s also a story of confluence – an almost magical combination of technology, market timing, and business strategy that leads to greater social good.

The centerpiece of the story is M-KOPA, a fast-growing startup based in Nairobi, Kenya. M-KOPA has a compelling vision: to bring solar panel lighting and electricity to the African continent. M-KOPA doesn’t build solar panels. It provides consumer financing for them. And even though it went into service just a year and a half ago, it already has over 35,000 customers and is growing rapidly.

M-KOPA has created an ingenious solution to bring solar panel financing to Africa. M-KOPA has created an ingenious solution to bring solar panel financing to Africa.

You probably know already that much of sub-Saharan Africa still uses kerosene-based lighting. Kerosene is not only antiquated, it’s also dangerous and unhealthy. If Kenya alone switched from kerosene to solar electricity, it would not only provide superior lighting and energy, according to Luminanet.org, it would also save the average Kenyan household $105 USD per year, eliminate 2.3 million tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (equivalent to about 500,000 mid-sized cars), and […]

By |2021-05-18T02:02:11-07:00November 3rd, 2013|

Walk Across the Valley

Have you ever wanted something only to rue the day you actually got it?

Recently, I had a simple but profound lesson that really taught me the value of “be careful what you wish for.” I’m really lucky to live in a beautiful place. Take a look. Here’s the view from our deck:

Before you make a decision, walk across the valley and see what the view's really like from that new angle. Before you make a decision, walk across the valley and see what the view’s really like from that new angle.

It’s an awesome view right? Well, when my family and I first moved here, I certainly noticed that it was a beautiful view. Almost immediately, though, my internal monkey mind started telling a story that that the view from across the valley must be even grander.

“Wow,” I thought, “the view from here is pretty spectacular but the view from that beautiful house across the valley must really be great!” I even felt inferior in some sense, as if we had ended up on the “wrong” side of the valley. The truly good stuff was clearly over there.

Well, I’m an idiot. One day my wife and I took a hike across the way. When we got to the other side and looked back, what do you think we saw? A really mediocre view compared to our side of the valley. The mountain ranges and textures that made our own view so spectacular were missing on the other side. Duh!

I realized in that moment that I had spent much of my life assuming things were always better on the other side. From afar, they looked more beautiful or interesting or desirable “over there.” I often focused blindly on […]

By |2021-05-18T02:02:43-07:00August 11th, 2013|

Discover Your Genius Zone

How can I use my genius more effectively as a leader?

While few people are intellectual geniuses, each of us has an area of outstanding ability that allows us to perform at a high level and adds to our overall energy and satisfaction. This zone of activity is what I call your Genius Zone. What is your own Genius Zone? You can begin to identify it and activate it using an outline. Talents, Purpose, Values, Desires, and Vision.

Basically, add all of those things together and allocate your time and energy to be more “in the zone” and you’ve got it. When you’re operating from within your Genius Zone, you experience high energy gains. You tend to feel deep engagement, high personal satisfaction, and elevated productivity. You also produce outstanding work. When you’re operating outside of your Genius Zone, life is more haphazard, less fulfilling, and you have to fight vs. flow.

  • Your Talents are those activities that you are naturally exceptional at and that add to your energy, joy, and satisfaction.
  • Your Purpose is the why of your life that brings meaning and focus to your endeavors.
  • Your Values are the commitments you hold dear.
  • Your Desires are your most heartfelt desires.
  • Your Positive Collective Vision is a vision larger than yourself.

Leading from your Genius Zone means that you design your activities in such a way so that you spend most of your time and energy engaged in those that add to your energy, joy, and satisfaction and at the same time, create the most enterprise value for your business.

If you’re struggling right now to grow your business, manage your team, find the right strategy, and to do it all quickly, then this concept might seem pretty far fetched. You don’t have enough […]

By |2024-04-04T06:36:48-07:00July 10th, 2013|

How to Use Yammer to Improve Employee Productivity

the-social-enterprise

 

“Men more frequently require to be reminded than informed.”
― Samuel Johnson

 

If you don’t know about Yammer yet, you should. Simply, it’s an “enterprise social network” for businesses. Microsoft purchased it in 2012 for $1.2B in cash. The goal of Yammer (and similar tools like Salesforce’s Work.com) is to help employees collaborate, stay connected, and improve company-wide communication.

Yammer’s approach is to leverage the same type of social media experience that employees are using in their personal lives — like Facebook and Twitter — to be more productive in their jobs. According to Yammer, companies who use the service reduce email use by 40%.

I think this trend of “enterprise socialization” is here to stay. As with a lot of trends, though, there’s the hype and then there’s the reality. I’ve had the chance to sit in on a few companies’ Yammer channels over the past year and here’s what I discovered:

  • The ratio of noise to signal seems (unscientifically) worse than the classic 80/20 rule. That is, for every really useful piece of actionable information, there’s a hell of a lot more useless noise/fluff/chatter filling up the airwaves. Some might argue that that’s the real benefit of these tools — they sort of capture an organization’s collective stream of consciousness. I would argue that it’s more indicative of people not being focused on or caring about what’s most important.
  • Employees seem to really like and use the tools. There’s value in that for sure. The risk is that, just as email killed the face-to-face meeting and enterprise socialization is killing email, you end up with a lot of data but little cohesiveness and actionable insight. Often, the fastest route to creating a breakthrough is to communicate less frequently but have a regular (weekly or bi-weekly) […]
By |2021-05-18T02:05:00-07:00June 7th, 2013|
Go to Top