Adapt your style to the situation at hand

What is your management style?  Evidence suggests that many successful companies have managers that stick to a particular style.  I believe the best companies have managers who can adapt their style to the current situation.

There are four management styles frequently discussed in the business world:

Autocratic – making unilateral decisions without input from the team

Participative – making executive decisions based on input from the team

Democratic – making decisions based on consensus from the team

Laissez-faire – empowering a team to make the decision without your influence

The best method depends on the team and the situation.  I created the matrix below to help determine the best method to apply in a situation:

6 Steps to Create Winning Product Platforms

In an earlier post, I explained the concept of product platforms.  Now let’s talk about how you implement a product platform in your organization.  Follow these six steps to increase your likelihood of success:

1.  Assign and empower a platform team leader

Success lies in having a leader that is empowered to make final decisions when the platform team cannot come to a resolution on an issue.  Typically, a product manager fulfills this role to make sure customer needs are met with the platform approach.

2.  Define the needs of the market

Create a matrix of all market requirements by target application and region.  Verify these needs with sales or customers.

CAUTION: Make sure to identify market trends by application.  If there are significant risks for a particular market requirement to shift in the near future, then mark the requirement as a variable specification that might need to be addressed outside of the platform.  You want the platform to be viable after at least one market shift to maximize the return on the investment.

3.  Identify what is common or unique by application and region

Requirements shared across markets automatically become part of the platform specification.  However, unique market requirements are a challenge and can be addressed in two ways:

  • Design a “one size fits all” platform. Some unique requirements may need to be compromised for the success of this platform approach.
  • Design a modular interface or adapter for ancillary parts to address unique customer requirements.

There are many examples of how companies or industries addressed unique market requirements.  For instance, many laptop power supplies can electrically operate anywhere in the world (platform) but you need to use a plug adapter to connect to various power outlets.

The additional cost for addressing a unique need must not move your total target unit cost by 5%.  If the cost is too high and there is a viable business case for the market need, then keep the requirement out of the platform and address the requirement with a separate solution.

4.  Identify which requirements would be a value-added feature

Value-adds could be features that differentiate you from the competition, justify a price mark-up, or both.  In either case, you want to look for ways to attach value-adds to a platform.  The value-adds could be offered as product accessories (ex. iPhone skins), product versions (iPhone 4 vs. iPhone4S), or enabled within the product (iCloud).  All of these tactics magnify the range a single product could address a variety of customer needs.

5.  Develop the platform architecture concepts and compare them

Test the concepts from different perspectives to make the best choice.  Do you have a common value added feature in your platform?  Is it feasible to use a “one-size-fits-all” platform to address region/customer specific needs?  Which approach will meet the target unit cost?  Which approach will be fast and easy to implement?  Which approach creates a barrier to entry or limits copycats?  Which approach has the highest potential for being future proof?  Does the platform span across an entire product group to maximize the return on the investment?


Conduct frequent reviews during the early stages of development to verify the approach is achieving cost, performance, and time targets.

Map your competitive position

Do you have a product/service that is not selling to your expectations?  Are you trying to figure out how to position a new product/service?  Consider creating a value map to visually see how customers value your product/service versus the competition.

A value map is a plot of a key product feature in a market versus the prices offered by providers.  I first came across value maps when I searched the internet for competitive benchmarking tools.   Here is an example of a value map:

The dashed line is the fair value line.  If your product falls on this line, then you are offering a feature at the price customers expect to pay for the feature.  If you are above the line, then you are charging too much for the feature.  If you are below the line, then you are offering a bargain!

I recommend conducting a conjoint study to find the feature(s) to use in the value map.  A conjoint study will determine the feature valued by most customers and the magnitude the feature influences their perceived product price.  If you have not performed a conjoint analysis, then compare all features offered and enter a weighting factor for one or more features that are valued most by customers based on feedback from sales or customers.

I could not find a spreadsheet template online to practice the idea, so I created one for anyone that wants to try out value mapping.

Click here to download the value map template (excel spreadsheet).

Happy mapping!


Pricing that new idea: a case for conjoint studies

Identifying the right price point to sell your new idea can be a significant challenge.  I believe the best tool to address this challenge is a conjoint study.  A conjoint study is a statistical method to quantify the perceived value of each feature in a product.  This is accomplished by having potential buyers rank different features through a series of attribute comparisons under controlled conditions.

My first experience with conjoint studies happened during my MBA where my marketing professor provided me the opportunity to consult a major consumer goods company to identify the target price for a new product concept.  During the study, my team and I surveyed people of different ages, sex, and marital statuses to determine their preferences on product features and price.  We used a software package to run the simulation for each respondent.  The software calculated the utility value (preference) for a feature (see graph below) for each respondent.  The results of our study revealed the acceptable price level for the new product was $20.  We also discovered that middle-aged men with children were the least price sensitive of any demographic and were willing to pay three times more than any other demographic for certain features.  This survey not only provided us pricing guidance but also insight into a target market.  Months later, the company informed the team that sales far exceeded forecasts and their biggest consumer of their highest priced product offering was, to no surprise to us, middle-aged men.

I have tried to do a conjoint study without a software tool and found conducting the survey without software to be time-consuming and restrictive. I also found having a software tool significantly enhances the statistical confidence of the results due to the tool’s ability to tailor the feature comparisons as the customer completes the survey.

Here is a list of companies that provide these software tools:

Sawtooth Software:


Survey Analytics:


IBM: .

If you are a believer in conjoint studies, then comment to this post with your experience with this tool.

Are you promoting happiness?

Throughout every workday, we ask the same questions to ourselves:

Am I happy?  Is my manager happy?  Are my customers happy?  Is my team happy?

Our days are happier when most of those around us are happy.  The degree at which people are happy changes throughout the day so how can we promote happiness of others when it is constantly fluctuating?  First you have to promote your happiness by planning to create numerous positive experiences throughout the day.  Like my prior post about celebrating small wins to motivate teams, frequent positive acts create a happier environment for all.

Great philosophers have advocated that happiness is created through the betterment of one’s body, mind, heart or soul.  Application of this great wisdom will create positive experiences each day when you create habits focused on bettering one or more of these pillars of happiness.

One manager that faced this challenge using this approach is Barb Piccirillo.  Barb supervises a customer service department of a consumer products company.  A challenge for her is creating happier experiences for unhappy people, so how does she make the people around her happier?  She keeps her mind focused on creating a positive experience. To make customers happy, she practices the habit of putting herself in their place to help defuse the situation.  To help her staff be happier, she creates a fun climate at work by facilitating occasional work events with prizes.  She recognizes staff accomplishments at least once a month.  She occasionally surprises her staff by leaving a candy bar on their desk before they arrive at work.  Through these habitual actions, Barb is promoting a happier work environment for herself and her workplace.

Some other examples how to promote happiness in the workplace:

  • Recognize individuals frequently no matter the size of their contributions
  • Establish a recurring meeting with no set agenda to solicit feedback
  • Smile and say hello to anyone that passes you in the hallway
  • Practice active listening
  • Promote the team’s accomplishments throughout the organization

Promoting happiness is not an easy task for many people.  The best approach to overcome this management challenge is to create and develop positive habits at work.

Celebrate the small to win big!

Keeping a team motivated through a project is always a challenge for the team leader.  Most of the time, you need to motivate through influencing because the team likely does not report to you.  How do you get team members aligned and motivated?  I’ve led many teams and no two teams were alike.  Every team member has different motivational levers but one thing worked with every team: celebrating small wins.  Forget the pizza parties or giving gift cards to motivate the team to achieve major milestones.  Forget trying to determine a person’s hidden motivational triggers.  One thing everyone wants is to be part of a success story.  If you establish minor milestones and celebrate their achievement as soon as they are completed, then the team will feel they are on track for success.  Be strategic with setting these milestones that will build a rhythm of achievement through the project.  For instance, if you are doing a project that is only a month long, then perhaps have a small milestone set for once a day.  Longer projects would have milestones celebrated once a week or bi-weekly.  Frequent celebration of accomplishments will build a positive environment.  It will make the team more optimistic when addressing any setbacks likely to occur during a project.  If you only acknowledge setbacks during the project, then you are celebrating defeat.  Celebrate the small wins and the team will be sure to achieve a big success.

A simple “must have” of any design: Simplicity

You just created a new design concept that you think the world will just love.  You have confidence that the product will do well because you did your homework: you reviewed the competitive landscape and tested prototypes with customers.  A final design is created and launched to the market but some customers don’t buy the product.  You priced it competitively, placed in the right channels, promoted it, and marketed its unique value proposition.  Why are some people not buying this awesome product?

I think in this instance, the problem was probably with the design.  According to Donald Norman, in his book “The Design of Everyday Things”, he states that every design should be easy to comprehend its operation, to see its current operation status, and the design should follow natural mappings.  In other words, the user should be able to experience the design without reading an instructions manual.

Donald’s take on the matter may seem simple but it is a challenge to any design team.  The period between prototype and final release involves multiple design spins to achieve the market requirements.  If the simplicity of the design is not made a priority through the development process, then the development team risks compromising simplicity for innovation.  My advice would be that simplicity should be a “must have” for any design and that the design’s simplicity should be checked after every design spin.

Modular vs. Platform

Companies across the world apply modularity to their products & services but some people, as I have heard and personally experienced, may confuse platforms with modularity.  Modularity and platforms differ by implementation but they do help achieve one common goal: adding scale to an idea.  Modularity is the concept of interchangeability in a product or service that enables the creator to easily add or remove value-added features to its portfolio.  Platforms are the common process or component used across a product line or service.  I believe many people mistake them to be the same thing because they are usually implemented into a business venture concurrently.

Here are some examples of modularity and platforms:

Benefits of modularity and platforms:

  • Standardization
  • Flexibility to respond to changing customer needs
  • Speed of launch of value-add features
  • Low long term development costs
  • Improved inventory management

Challenges and risks of modularity and platforms:

  • Longevity of platform or modular approach to meet future customer needs
  • Perceived value of premium products are diluted by platform approach
  • Magnitude of a product recall due to faulty platform
  • Implementation into existing business processes or systems