January 27, 2006

You really need to focus!

Posted in CEO, management, Product Development at 9:14 am by scottmaxwell

I posted several times on the issue of focus, including the opportunity to develop a scope advantage against the large company, the issue of time horizon of CEO focus vs. company size, the the issue of CEO time horizon focus by day of the year.

I am just completing a week of meetings with emerging growth technology companies in Germany and Russia, and the meetings reminded me again that everyone talks about focus, but very few companies actually do focus (this is true of emerging growth companies in all countries, not just the companies that triggered this post).

There are two major opportunities for most (all?) emerging growth companies:

  1. Narrow your focus– Reduce the number of products and the number of new features that you are trying to add to the products. Use the extra time to make the product and features that you are developing that much better (and simpler).
  2. Improve the target of your focus– Listen to your customers to help you narrow down to the right product and the right features. (some ideas on how to do this are in my post on gaining an information advantage).

Ok. I know…obvious points. But if the points are so obvious, why is it that so many companies feel that they understand their customers so well without spending much time with the customers? Why is it that they are thinking up grand new products when their current products have a long way to go before they are fully intuitive and extremely easy to use?

I think the issue is that most companies are not critical enough of themselves…they go through their day thinking that they know their customer (using logic and a lot of assumptions) and they are focusing when EVERY company has significant opportunity to improve on both! (one senior manager on this trip went so far as to explain to me that talking to the customers will mislead the company into believing the feedback, which would only be relevant for that particular customer. While he is right to point out that you need to be careful about your approach and conclusions that you reach, this is a very bad excuse for not taking the time to understand your customers’ point of view!!)

An approach that will help most (all?) companies is to appoint a person responsible for both formalizing and capturing the customers’ feedback AND be responsible for minimizing scope creep (this needs to be a highly disciplined person that feels comfortable keeping everyone focused and on target). The role could be called (or be part of) product marketing or product management. If you do not have this role in your organization, consider creating it and assigning the right type of person to it.

You have a huge opportunity to make better products while growing faster with fewer managment headaches.  At a minimum, walk around your company for the rest of the day saying to everyone that you meet “You really need to focus!”  I am 100% certain that everyone will agree…

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3 Comments »

  1. […] Scott Maxwell reminds us that you really need to focus: I am just completing a week of meetings with emerging growth technology companies in Germany and Russia, and the meetings reminded me again that everyone talks about focus, but very few companies actually do focus (this is true of emerging growth companies in all countries, not just the companies that triggered this post). […]

  2. PaulSweeney said,

    I might suggest that there is one caveat: with “digital” technology, your segment might be a function of your customisation capability, and your reach capability. The ability to listen more deeply to the customer, and the context in which the customer uses the product, and build this into the product development path is crucial, as long as the company understands how it will be financed (cost of build, support etc. vs revenue ). Just a thought…

  3. scottmaxwell said,

    Good points Paul.


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