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Third segments in a series about leadership and the technology lifecycle. All segments can be seen on video or read. The first segment can be found at Understanding the Focus and Challenges of Technology Lifecycles: Introduction.
We’ve reviewed the common business and leadership challenges across the lifecycle, now we are going to turn our attention to the common pain points and classic missteps.
The common pain points of each phase tend to shed light on the tensions or misalignments within the phase that often leads to missteps or time delays in transitioning to the next phase, and in some cases, the pain points actually contribute to the overall failure of the business. Keep in mind that every business is different and whether you are part of a large company or a start-up will determine your unique situation. However, we have found that most of these pain points and missteps are still very relevant today, regardless of business type.
Misalignment between the value proposition communicated to early adopters or investors and the actual functionality of the technology or product.
At this moment, the product, service or company is at the forefront of technology. The organization is pushing the edge of technology, and while the vision and intention are clear, the practical reality of the technology is, or does not yet, achieved that value proposition. In some cases, this determines whether that product will continue in the marketplace or die a slow death.
1) Mismatch of the leadership/management skill set and style to the entrepreneurial and innovative nature of the phase
This is particularly true in large companies where mature, operational leaders are “rewarded” with a new and exciting opportunity to lead a new technology or product organization.
As I mentioned in our previous segment on leadership challenges, if the leader or manager is savvy and aware that they're not the leader for that particular phase, they will set up an ambidextrous organization that can protect and fund someone else to lead the innovation effort. However, this often does not occur.
2) Mismatch & Uncertainty about the market
The approach in the early phase can sometimes be: “If we build it, they will come.” However, there may not be a compelling need or a pull from the market for the technology at that time. This is especially true of products or technology is so far ahead of its time it does not yet address the particular problem or need that might interest early adopters, angel investment, etc…
The most common misstep in the early market phase is that the organization tries to do everything itself rather than finding partners who can contribute to achieving faster proof points.
Sometimes this is a purely financial constraint because funding is not available to bring in the partner. However, sometimes this is a self-imposed constraint where the organization is consumed with thinking about what they need to do to move forward.
1) Inadequate resources
Sometimes resources are constrained by investment dollars or the ability to attract the appropriately skilled people. This often results in time delays, missed milestones and commitments.
2) Leveraging processes that do not apply to the new product/service
This pain point is particularly seen in established companies as they leverage existing or the mature processes in ways that don't match the new product or service’s need for speed or flexibility. Organizations can be forced to use processes that have been honed over the years but does not apply to the current product under development.
3) The organization is immature in its development and lacks the ability to coordinate effectively
Here the organization is so focused on what they're trying to produce or achieve, that the infrastructure isn't in place for effective coordination, which causes more delays, problems, and challenges.
The most common missteps in the bowling alley phase are:
1) The failure to get the product out into the market as a rapid prototype or demo so early adopters, innovators, and investors can get excited and create that buzz around that product.
2) Impatience on the leadership side to capture the interest of market segments so that the consumer herds will begin to move. Sometimes there is pressure from investors for a quick return on investment, but an effective launch must capture the interest of the market so the herd will start to move and build towards a successful tornado phase.
As the organization enters the tornado phase and everyone reaches for his or her seatbelts, the pain points turn internally to challenges within the organization.
1) Bottlenecks at the CEO, General Manager & Leadership Levels
At this level, leadership becomes critical as the amount of detail, task and complexity increase tremendously. The entrepreneurial leader or founder who was able to bring the technology or product to market now finds themselves in over their head, and a more mature and experienced operations leader is required to hold both the big picture and detailed, complexity.
2) Ability to scale and adapt or create the processes and systems to enable scale
The ad hoc or informal processes and systems that brought the organization to this point do not support scaling. A major effort to focus on discipline and well-defined processes, systems, channels, and partners are required for growth
The pain points of the phase bring us to two major missteps:
1) Leadership at this point must create a burning platform for change. It must send a signal to the organization that what got us here is no longer sufficient to take us into the tornado phase. All hands are required on deck to build a sustainable organization with the right skills and capabilities to whether the tornado.
2) The urgency to create a sustainable organization leads organizations trying to do everything themselves. This is a huge misstep, as they have to look to partners to help with the heavy lifting to deliver on their commitments and to capture and grow the market.
By the time an organization gets to main street and assuming that they have become the market leader, the challenges and pain points increase.
1) Increased Competition
Competitors are capturing their market share and creating ways to make products cheaper or finding ways to provide additional or creative functionality. They're finding creative ways to make your product either cheaper or easier in some ways or some alternative to it altogether.
Going back to our HP Inkjet example, competitors found creative ways to make ink cheaper by refilling ink containers. Competitors will continue to find ways to disrupt and/or challenge the organization in some way.
2) Management of Margin Efficiency
As the margins get tighter, greater efficiencies are needed to ensure profitability. There are numerous “activity traps” around the complex processes that helped them through the tornado phase when dollars didn’t matter. Now process efficiency and margin control become major challenges, and the organization must be reinvented for greater efficiency.
3) Shift to Customer Intimacy
The shift to customer intimacy becomes paramount at this phase. The functional organizational structure created in the tornado phase to focus getting things done must now shift to a front-back structure where the front-end is customer facing and pays clear attention to customer needs and the satisfaction, and the back-end focused on achieving greater efficiencies, control costs, make things easier for customers.
4) Employee Burnout
Keeping employees is also a major risk at this phase. The employees have experienced tremendous success and are begin looking for something new for them themselves, so there needs to be a focus on the care, feeding, and rejuvenation of the employees.
5) Missed Opportunities for Innovation
On top of the above-mentioned pain points, the organization also risks missing out or being unable to create the next new, innovative technology or product that will take the business to the next s-curve
Arriving at the main street phase takes the organization to a whole new level of complexity and challenges. It forces it to shift in many ways, and it may seem that all the fun and excitement of the early days are long gone. This leads to missteps.
1) Many organizations make the mistake of indulging in the nostalgia for the “old days” when the organization was simpler, more exciting and fun, instead of focusing on the hard challenges required to be successful on main street.
2) Another major misstep is the failure of leadership to shift the organizational model to enable greater customer intimacy on the front-end while focusing on greater efficiency on the back-end. Functional organizations often experience the loss of power and influence as they hold on to centralized processes and control that now must shift to the edges of the organization and closer to the consumers.
3) Lastly, as the organization moves closer to that end of life, it must begin to operate with greater ambidexterity. It must continue to deliver on the consistent margins of a cash cow business while reinventing itself and creating its future before another organization beats them to the next s-curve.
Main street and end of life are extremely challenging times for businesses and requires many pivots both in process and leadership. This concludes our series on the technology product lifecycle. I hope you found this both interesting and valuable, and a diagnostic tool in your organization.