13 Sep

SCIP Minnesota Presents: A Panel Discussion with Line of Sight Group, PDMA & CXPA Practitioners

2017-09-13_17-47-31

Line of Sight Group is proud to be part of SCIP Minnesota’s panel discussion later this month. President and Founder Steve Schulz will join other top experts in the competitive intelligence, product management, and customer experience arenas.

The discussion will touch on and provide insight on common challenges, including the type of intelligence leadership is looking for, and illustrate how top practitioners gather intelligence for internal use and on their competitors. Panelists will also illustrate some useful tips and tools that are used by top practitioners.

Other panelists include:

  • Lori Laflin, Global Customer Engagement Research Program Manager, Cargill/ Member CXPA , CCXP
  • Paul Santilli, WW OEM Business Intelligence & Customer Insights at Hewlett Packard Enterprise/ Secretary & Treasurer, Board of Directors, SCIP
  • Mark Jensen, Director of Product Management-Distribution, Epicor Software/ Board of Directors, PDMA
  • Tom Mcgoldrick, Strategic Insights Director of UnitedHealth Group

The Panel will be moderated by Brett Norgaard, Principal, Line of Sight Group.

The SCIP MN Panel Discussion will take place September 27 from 5 pm-7 pm Central Time at the Grant Park Conference Room, 500 East Grant Street, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

For more information or to attend the event, please go to the SCIP MN website or reach out to MN Chapter Chair, Julie Johnson.

Line of Sight’s Market-i Competitive Intelligence Program is a SCIP “Endorsed” product. Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP) is the nonprofit Association representing the Integrated Intelligence industry internationally for over 32 years.

SCIP

 

 

27 Jul

Competing through Intelligence – The Journey to a More Proactive Strategy

In my observation over the years in leading market research and intelligence efforts within organizations and then supporting them in a consulting role, I’ve observed how organizations tend to migrate along a ‘continuum’, based on their experience and skills in making data-driven strategic decisions.

Phase 1: Surprise! The initial realization that organizations need better knowledge and understanding of their external and competitive environment is when management experiences a significant surprise. This can be the appearance of a new competitor in their space, maybe through a partnership or acquisition. An example is the recent entry of Amazon into the grocery business through the acquisition of Whole Foods. Or it might be the loss of business at a loyal customer to an ‘irrational’ competitor, or simply growing price pressure caused by a value proposition that customers increasingly cannot discern as different from the competition. Whatever the cause, the general response in Phase 1 is to go overboard and ‘boil the ocean’ in an all-out/in-depth analysis to ensure it never happens again. Unfortunately, within months of completing this time consuming and expensive analysis, the external environment has continued to change bringing new potential surprises.

Phase 2. Dedicated Projects. The next phase on the continuum involves the realization that information and knowledge about a firm’s external environment can help manage risk and improve chances of success in its strategic ‘bets’. So instead of relying on gut feel, the organization conducts in-depth research to support and inform a strategic decision, usually related to combating a threat or taking advantage of a specific opportunity. These are one-time efforts designed to support a specific decision. In that way, they are highly valuable and actionable, and many organizations choose to stay in this phase. Again, the primary disadvantage with this approach is that the external environment does not stop evolving and changing. While the ‘snapshot’ analysis is valuable in supporting a specific decision, it gradually becomes obsolete as the environment changes.

Phase 3. Longitudinal Projects. After organizations have been conducting one-off research efforts for a while, they often identify some that they would like to repeat periodically. They may involve ongoing marketing or sales campaigns, for example, or existing products where pricing, features and enhancements change regularly. These periodic updates help managers keep a pulse on the changing external landscape, and make adjustments based on changing customer needs, competitor moves or changes in market or industry-level forces that affect strategic decisions. The primary disadvantage is that these updates generally look backward and decisions are based on what has happened rather than being future-based to include what is likely to happen.

Phase 4: Systematic Intelligence. As organizations see value in periodic updates, some move further to a systematic environment that involves continuous monitoring of threats and opportunities, regular updates, and an ongoing development of a strategic knowledge asset that is leveraged across the organization. Ongoing monitoring of leading indicators and patterns of changes in products and offerings, strategic assumptions, potential opportunities, threats and disruptors, and customer perception of the firm’s value proposition are designed to enable the organization to identify threats and opportunities earlier and to adjust its strategy quickly and effectively.

In order to get to this point, managers in these organizations start to develop a different mindset and an understanding that they cannot control how customers and ‘irrational’ competitors will behave in the future. They acknowledge that strategy is not perfect. They realize that, while their annual strategic plan is valuable for creating initial budgets and a list of important initiatives, they also need to have the capability and discipline to make strategic changes mid-stream and be able to justify them to the board using data. Managers shift their thinking to focus on the risks involved in the strategic choices (i.e.: placing bets) rather than insisting on proof that a given strategy will succeed.

This journey along the sophistication curve from episodic fixes to a data-driven culture of continuous knowledge and insight can be difficult for many organizations, but I’ve observed that those that make it to the systematic program level find a number of benefits:

  • Faster strategic response and first-mover advantages
  • Improved efficiency through a continuous process
  • Better communication and ‘line of sight’ for middle managers and others who support and execute strategic decisions
  • A knowledge asset that can be built upon and leveraged for innovation across the organization

In general, these organizations become more proactive by developing the capabilities to make hard strategic choices and ‘bets’ even as some things are unknowable and uncontrollable, and to adjust their strategies based on their own continuous learning about their external environment.

23 May

Creating a Clear Line of Sight Through Inputs, Strategy and Execution

Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 7.45.56 PM

Last week Line of Sight Group delivered a presentation to the local chapter of the Product Development and Management Association (PDMA) entitled, “The Intersection of Strategy and Product Development/Management.” The event was held at Padilla in Minneapolis and attended by 50 product management and strategy practitioners.  Line of Sight Group Founder and President, Steve Schulz, opened with the question, “what do these have in common?” The metaphorical slide had pictures of a dinosaur, a telephone booth and a Blockbuster Video storefront.  All are now extinct, disrupted out of existence by stronger competitors that were better informed and equipped to survive.  Why?

Doug Hedlund, Participating Faculty at the University of St. Thomas Opus School, offered the first part of the answer, a Strategy Formulation and Execution Discipline involving the capture of key factors (an organization’s vision, mission, core values and strategic goals), internal environment factors (strengths and weaknesses) and external environment forces (competition and trends) as inputs.  Next, he walked through how the key factors inform the Strategy (Arenas, Vehicles, Differentiation, Staging and Economic Logic). Finally, he covered the execution levers (leadership, talent, organizational structure, systems/processes, and culture) and scorecard (metrics and dashboards) needed to successfully carry out the strategy.

Next, Schulz presented an interactive case study using the Strategy Formulation and Execution Discipline where the attendees helped to fill in the key inputs that shaped the strategy and execution. Schulz employed three useful frameworks to organize the external and internal data – PESTEL (Political, Economic, Societal, Technological, Environmental, & Legal) Analysis, Porter’s Five Forces Analysis and a Table Stakes Analysis in his presentation of the case.

Finally, Brett Norgaard, Line of Sight Group Principal, bookended the presentation with two stories highlighting the use of timely external environment intelligence leading to successful strategies and product launches under very different circumstances. (See Stealth and Telephone Switch blog entries.)

Starting with external environment research as the first step to creating a clear line of sight, from the inputs to the strategy formation and on through to the execution and measurement, ensures alignment of the strategic and go-to-market functions, including product development/management. Individuals that can identify and understand what is upstream and downstream from strategy formulation will be best positioned to help their organizations prevail and avoid extinction in increasingly disruptive times.

05 Oct

External vs. Internal: The Difference between Strategy and Planning

Woman

As we enter the first days of October here in Minnesota, the leaves are turning, football is back and our clients are diving deep into their strategic planning for 2017.
When the concept of strategic planning arrived in the business world in the mid-1960’s, corporate leaders embraced it as “the one best way’ to devise and implement strategies, according to Henry Mintzberg, the internationally renowned academic and author of ‘The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning’. By the mid 1990’s amidst the dot.com bust, however, strategic planning had fallen from its pedestal and planning departments were being dismantled.

“Strategic planning is not strategic thinking. One is analysis and the other is synthesis.”
– Henry Mintzberg

Mintzberg explained that strategic planning had become, “strategic programming, the articulation and elaboration of strategies, or visions, that already exist.” On the other hand, he wrote that strategic thinking is about capturing what managers learn from all sources (including both ‘soft’ insights from experiences and observations as well as ‘hard’ data from market research) and then synthesizing it into a vision of the direction that the business should pursue.

In his 2014 HBR article ‘The Big Lie of Strategic Planning’ University of Toronto Professor Roger Martin laments that “strategic plans all tend to look pretty much the same.” They have three major parts: a vision or mission statement, a list of initiatives, and a conversion of the initiatives into budgets. While they may produce better budgets, they are not about strategy.

Strategic Planning Strategy
Internally focused: planning, costs, capabilities Externally focused: customers and competition
Short-term Future-oriented
Controllable Uncontrollable in long-term
Comfortable Uncomfortable
Accurate, predictive Imperfect, directional
Risk elimination Risk management
Objectives, steps, timelines Placing bets

Strategy is about what we choose to do as an organization (and not to do) and why. It is about where to place ‘bets’. Strategy focuses on the revenue side, where customers make decisions about whether to give their money to us, to our competitors or to a substitute. This is the hard work of acquiring and keeping customers. It is uncomfortable because our customers are making the decisions, not our own organization.

How to escape the comfort zone: embrace the angst

Because the problem is rooted in our natural aversion to discomfort and fear, Martin writes, “the only remedy is to adopt a discipline about strategy making that reconciles you to experiencing some angst.”

How can we stay focused on strategy this planning season and not fall into the trap of planning and cost budgeting? Some tips:

    Focus on choices that influence revenue (i.e.: customer decision makers). This boils down to just two basic choices: 1) where-to-play (which buyers to target) and 2) how-to-win (how to create a compelling value proposition for those customers). Customers will decide whether or not our value proposition is valuable and superior to competitors’, and whether or not to reward us with revenue.
    Acknowledge that strategy is not perfect. Managers and boards need to shift their thinking to focus on the risks involved in the strategic choices (i.e.: placing bets) rather than insisting on proof that a strategy will succeed.
    Explicitly document the logic. The assumptions about customers, industry, competition, internal capabilities, and others that drove the decisions should be documented and then later compared to real events. This helps to quickly explain why a particular strategy is not producing the desired outcome.
    Invest in data-driven decision making. Placing bets inherently involves risks. Because strategy is not perfect and risk cannot be eliminated, the objective is to increase the odds of success by understanding and managing risks. This is where knowledge and insight into customer needs and competitive offerings and dynamics provides tangible value.

Alignment

Of course, successful strategic planning occurs when both strategy and planning are aligned. The strategic “sweet spot” is the value proposition that meets customers’ needs in a way that rivals can’t. It must include both the external view of customers and competitors and the internal view of our own capabilities.

When the core elements of strategy are aligned (customers – competition – capabilities – mission/vision), and when decisions are driven by solid external knowledge, organizations can confidently place its strategic bets in a way that both grows revenue and delivers it in a way that is profitable for the company.

07 Jul

The Challenge of Being Different

image1

In a past life, I held the position of a product manager for a company that was the leader in a substantial and mature industry. As a product manager, I learned many things:

  • First I learned that the product manager role in any organization is extremely hard work and not for the faint of heart. I mean, who would even want the job of being in the middle of demanding customers, unruly salespeople, tentative engineers, anxious operations managers, out of touch managers and cautious finance and accounting folks? Sounds like a perfect job for a middle child, which I am not. In addition, even though we had good market research, I always felt like I was running in circles, responding to the largest customer or market anecdotes without a good sense of the real market needs
  • Second, I learned that responding to those counter pressures was the safest way to operate. While it was considered ‘customer focused’, in the end, our efforts often resulted in product features and pricing models that looked pretty much like everything else in the market, even though internally we felt we had invented something unique
  • Last, I learned that working to make my product line truly ‘different’ in the market required skill, courage, leadership, and even a little luck.

In her book ‘Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd’ Harvard Business Professor Youngme Moon describes the concept of ‘category blur’. Her argument is that once a product category becomes a blur to customers, they start to adopt a consumption posture directed toward the category as a whole, as opposed to the individual brands within it. Professor Moon says, “We [buyers] no longer see the trees for the forest so we cop a stance toward the forest instead.” On the other hand, what she terms ‘breakaway’ products and brands deviate from these stereotypes in such a way as to cast doubt on the validity of the original generalizations.

The concept of ‘different’ implies the ability to compare and contrast one against another – for both customers and product managers. In order to deliver products that are truly different product managers must start with knowledge of his or her own product, production and pricing capabilities, etc. (the internal environment). At the same time they must have deep knowledge of the competitor’s products and capabilities along with buyer needs, perceptions and behavior (the external environment). In addition, since the external environment is constantly changing as customer needs change, competitors change, and technology and other trends drive change, the awareness of differences must be continuous. (Refer to the difficult role of the product manager above).

When we started working with one of our very good clients several years ago, the senior executive told me, “We have launched so many new products and product improvements over the years that have failed.” He added, “They not only cost money but hurt our reputation with customers, and we know that solid investment on the front-end is critical.”

It is the external environment where Line of Sight Group helps our clients. Our approach is to help product management professionals improve their effectiveness by collaborating with them to ‘out-smart’ their competition by identifying the disruption that represents opportunities and threats before their competitors do. We help them benchmark the competition, watch their ever-changing external environment and help them connect the dots. They apply the insight to close gaps to reduce risk and Identify ‘white space’ opportunities to make their products truly ‘different’.

As noted above, sometimes being ‘different’ requires a little luck beyond the leadership and hard work of a product manager. Sometimes that luck comes in the form of additional knowledge and insight – and it can mean all the difference.

31 Mar

Profiting From Change: How Some Health Care Organizations Are Navigating Industry Chaos

Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 7.45.56 PM

For every industry there is a ‘current state’ and a ‘future state’. The space between them is called ‘change’….and in an industry like health care, the term ‘chaos’ is more appropriate.  This chaos can represent either opportunity or threat, depending on an organization’s ability to understand and respond by making the right decisions and investments. Innovation is happening at a pace never seen before in the health care industry. Political and regulatory change, technology change, demographic and societal change are all driving new market needs for consumers, providers, payors and others. From telemedicine to population health management to connected health, to social patient experience and crowd-sourcing solutions, the pressure on organizations intensifies as they jockey to fill those emerging market needs.

In the midst of all this change, executives are trying to make the right decisions to survive and grow. Product managers and developers need to place bets on new products and innovation, chief marketing officers need to invest in campaigns that position their organizations effectively, and sales executives need to compete ‘in the trenches’ against a dizzying array of competition. CEOs and other leaders need to bring all of these functions together to create strategic plans. Beyond making sense of the chaos, how does an organization gain the confidence to make the right investments in order to grow and not get left behind?

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet, no single solution.

Although no one can tell the future, some organizations are better at preparing for it than others. How is it that companies like Catamaran (now part of OptumRx), Coloplast and Express Scripts are recognized by Forbes in its latest list of the most innovative companies, while others seem to be paralyzed?

One way in which we’ve observed health care organizations change their mindset has been when they apply their expertise on the clinical side to their business strategy. These organizations are mining data from many sources and analyzing it in a longitudinal, systematic manner. They use the information to identify opportunities to engage directly with consumers, their providers, health coaches and others to close gaps in care. The concept has been applied across the health continuum in wellness, chronic condition management, pharmaceutical safety and adherence, population health management and many others. Optum’s Care Management program, Express Scripts’ Rational Med, Healthways’ TargetTM and Humana’s Gaps in Care programs are only a few examples.

What if this model could be applied to business strategy?

While there are distinct challenges with applying this model to business strategy, the basic model is something we’ve been applying for our customers for nearly 15 years to give them clarity about the changing world around them and the strategic moves that can help them grow their business. They apply this insight to everything from training their salespeople to developing new products and services to making high-stakes technology investments and more.

For health care organizations that are heads down, charging hard and working to meet growth and profitability goals, it can be difficult to take a breath and consider the benefits of applying systematic market and industry intelligence to strategic decisions. Applying the concepts of what they already know gives them a place to start. The basic notion of using empirical data to make decisions and perform interventions that improve outcomes is at the heart of healthcare….and at the heart of strategic intelligence applied to your business to improve growth and profitability outcomes.

If you will be attending the American Telemedicine Association conference May 14 to 17 in Minneapolis, please stop by booth #1325 to say hello and learn more about how Line of Sight helps organizations like yours make sense of, and grow, amidst the chaos.

LoS_ATAImage
29 Feb

Our Journey Continues

image1

Welcome!

This – the creation, care, and feeding of the Line of Sight Group consultancy – all started as a passion for two kinds of challenges:

  1. the challenge of impacting the strategy of organizations, and
  2. the challenge of making sense of seemingly random data and turning it into meaningful, strategic insights upon which our clients could act.

Since 2002, it has been our clients, staff, partners, and mentors guiding me and shaping Line of Sight Group into what we are today…and where we are headed next.

I started Line of Sight having worked in various sales, product development, market research, and strategy roles with three respected Twin Cities organizations across three different industries – Deluxe Corp, Jostens, and Optum/UnitedHealth. Building out and leading competitive intelligence functions at those organizations leveraged my skills and provided the kinds of challenges I was seeking.

The idea of Line of Sight was to do work similar to what I was already doing as an employee – only to do it as an outside partner. I soon learned that it was much more complex and risky than I had thought. However, it was the relationships formed during those years that led to our early success.  We grew through referrals and those who knew my work. I’d get calls from people I’d worked with previously who had moved on to another organization saying, “Remember that strategic analysis you did for us last year at my old company? We need a similar ‘deep dive’ at my new company!”

The work load quickly grew beyond what I could handle; I was able to convince talented people who had similar skill sets and passion to join me. Jen Loehr was just out of college with a degree in Journalism and a strong, Midwestern work ethic, and helped to build out Market-i, our cloud-based platform and the first intelligence monitoring programs. I had previously worked with Sara at Deluxe and at a weak moment she agreed to help me with analyzing the newly developing Medicare Advantage industry. Derek was a student in my competitive intelligence course at St. Catherine’s and began doing part-time monitoring work before becoming our first full-time employee. Others have joined along the way, each adding their own unique skills and personalities. Jennifer S., Jennifer E. (yes, we have 3 Jennifers), Jessica, Mike, Glenn and Brett all share the same values and drive for helping our clients better serve their customers by understanding and taking advantage of change in the business environment.

Our new website and brand refresh is just part of our continued evolution. It started with feedback from our clients – those corporate researchers and their associates who are developing products, communicating with the market, selling, and sometimes running the entire organization. They told us what they value most about how they work with us. We kept those things and built on them. We looked at our competition. We focused on where we are different and better. We listened to our clients’ stories, we observed, we made some strategic decisions. We brought on new talent and developed new relationships. We re-prioritized some activities and reallocated some resources. As Peter Drucker said, “The first step in a growth policy is not to decide where and how to grow. It is to decide what to abandon.”  We stepped back to better understand how we provide value to our clients and developed the Grow, Protect, Focus mantra to reflect what we had been doing all along.

The future for Line of Sight Group is bright. Not only do we have a new look and feel but a new focus and energy. We excel at helping our clients grow their business in health, financial, education, and manufacturing/retail spaces and will continue to do that. We have assembled the skills, technology and talent to better serve our core clients:

  • Executive teams and CEOs with sharper strategy creation and alignment of Sales, Marketing and Product functions;
  • Sales teams so they can win more and target more accurately;
  • Marketing teams can listen to the market to create superior content and messaging; and,
  • Products teams to create differentiated products the market ultimately wants to buy.

Through it all, our core purpose and passion will remain as it has been: To help our clients grow, protect, and focus their business by making strategic moves that provide unique and better value to customers than their competition.   

As always, we’re here to help. Have a look around our new website and (newly launched) social media presences (links below), and take a moment to say “hello” from wherever you may be.  We’d love to connect.