Listen to the Interview
This episode is about the product lifecycle and developing products customers want. As the pressure to get products to market faster increases, little room is left for learning through mistakes. My guest knows this well and has helped numerous companies improve their processes and results developing products. She has worked all over the US, Europe and Asia, including traveling to Japan more than 100 times to help Japanese companies globalize. Her superpower is bringing people with diverse backgrounds and cultures together, across borders and boundaries of every kind, to achieve what none could do alone.
Her name is Kimberly Wiefling and she shares the three elements needed for product excellence:
- executive sponsorship,
- cross-functional core teams, and
- the customer.
Practices and Ideas for Product Managers and Innovators
Summary of questions discussed:
- We need a common understanding of what a product lifecycle is before we can begin understanding product lifecycle excellence. How do you define a product lifecycle? A product lifecycle is some kind of system or process that helps you take an idea to a product or service, build it, test it, ship it and support it routinely in the hands of the customer. [Unlike the Product Life Cycle, which explains the life of a product in the market place from launch/introduction through decline and discontinuation.]
- What is the state of product lifecycle in most companies – what problems exist / what are the results? It’s really changed over the years. Back when I first started doing product development program leadership, there was a lack of process discipline, and there were people who felt that this was creativity and we couldn’t put boundaries on their creativity by having some kind of methodology. Then it swung to the other extreme with processes, phases, milestones and deliverables. Then we got agile and iterations and process discipline around it. So it’s gone the spectrum from no process to a whole lot of process which may or may not be adding value and is not always used correctly.
- What are the elements needed for PLC excellence? The three big areas you have are the executive sponsorship, the cross-functional core teams, and the customer.
- Why are executive sponsors important? They remove barriers, provide resources, and keep what is important to the organization reflected in the product. Executive sponsors also provide direction for the seemingly impossible. There’s a famous example of that where the head of Toyota at one point said we’re going to have a hybrid car. His engineers didn’t quite get that, and he came back again and again and said, no, we will have a car like this, I don’t care if it makes engineering sense, or even economic sense, or even if it makes ecological sense. We are going to be the thought leader in this area.
- The next element is cross-functional core teams. Tell us about that. You can’t just put together a product or a service like a Frankenstein, just stitched together. It will just be a monster. You need a cross-functional core team that is involved with the product concept at the beginning and stays together throughout the process, not handing the project off to others between stages of work. The core team provides continuity.
- What about the third element, the customer? You need to create something that, in the whole, has the qualities that are being looked for by the customer and the market. One tool to use to create what customers want is prototyping. I’ve worked with a lot of companies doing leadership development programs. Part of this is to form teams of four or five people that work on real projects. The projects that make the most progress are those that get something on paper, like a drawing, show it to the various stakeholders, and get feedback as early and quickly as possible. Imagine they’ve gone from an idea that seemed impossible to a working prototype that a lot of their stakeholders, including the customers, have provided feedback on.
“There is only one boss, the customer.” –Sam Walton
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.