26 Jan

Our 20th Anniversary: Reflecting back

It seems like yesterday when I started Line of Sight…how quickly 20 years have gone! As I sit here and reflect, I can’t help but think “wow do I have a lot to be thankful for!” From the people with whom I crossed paths early on and came with me on this journey, to those who joined in partnership later I am so thankful.

How it all began.

When I was working for Optum I was constantly fighting the push and pull of staying with the security of a large, dynamic organization or jumping off full time into my own gig. During this time, I had several former colleagues and contacts requesting my consultation on various market intelligence projects. Most notable, and when I really got serious about hanging out my shingle, was the frequent requests from Rick E, a former colleague at Deluxe who had moved to another company as CFO. His new company was losing deals they had previously won, and he needed help setting up the capability to objectively monitor and analyze the company’s external environment to make better strategic decisions.

The opportunity to partner with past colleagues and a breadth of great companies was really enticing. But most important, my wife Linda was on board. Without her support and good job with a financial services firm and an excellent health insurance plan, Line of Sight would have never happened. (Which speaks to our antiquated employer-based health care system, but I’ll keep my opinions to myself). 

Everything was aligning! Even Paul K, my manager at Optum, reluctantly but kindly supported me when I ultimately decided to make the jump.

The name.

It came together one early morning on a walk with my dog Pita, a black and white spotted German Shorthair Pointer with amazing energy who kept me in shape and cleared my mind during long walks. On this particular walk I recalled a moment from a few years earlier, where I had been invited to participate in a process innovation project for Deluxe. A small team went offsite to dream up ways to improve a critical sales process. The amazing group facilitator, Joe P, had used the phrase “line of sight” so often in his conversation and instructions to us, that it stuck with me. One process step must always have “line of sight” to the next, he would say. The process should be designed so that the people involved would always have “line of sight” to its purpose and objectives. On that late winter morning, the phrase came back into my head, and after some quick research, that was that and Line of Sight Group was born.

The product.

Early on, the focal point of our offering was a market intelligence software. This was early in the development of cloud computing, but I wanted nothing to do with on-premises applications. Paul E, a former Cray Computer guy, was my guru and introduced me to IT people who could make it happen. Selling a cloud solution to large corporations in the early 2000s was not easy. It was new and raised many concerns for the IT folks, but the business leaders saw the many advantages and helped to push those early sales through.

The service side of our business doing market/competitive/industry intelligence and analysis was also growing and would eventually overtake the software side. I needed help!

The team.

Jennifer Loehr, a trained journalist, came on board early on and has developed into a strong project manager, leading our longest running client engagement. She celebrates 15 years with Line of Sight this year.

Sara Bartholomew joined shortly after. Sara and I had worked together in a market research/corporate strategy group at Deluxe several years earlier and my call to her was timely as she said, “my kids are getting older, and I need something to do!” She brought journalism and MBA degrees and 15 years later she is the voice of reason that keeps us on keel.

With Jen and Sara as anchors, we enlisted several people over the years.

Jennifer Waffensmith had strong experience in mystery shopping and leveraged that experience with the ability to fearlessly interview almost any subject matter expert. After five years of working with our clients, one client calls her “an amazing sleuth.”

Erin Andersland joined us from Target Corp. five years ago and leveraged her MLIS degree and corporate research experience to lead several ongoing client programs and is our ‘go-to’ for hard-to-find secondary research.

Kristi Dale brought her journalism degree, marketing communications and medical journal editing experience to lead several of our health care programs for the last five years.

Teresa Muckala was a long-time friend, having co-managed the local SCIP chapter with me for several years. She also brought a journalism degree and rich experience in medical devices and health care and celebrates four years with Line of Sight Group this year.

(In case you are counting, that is a combined total of 69 years of service to our clients, including me, not counting previous or related experience.)

Wayne Lund joined us as CFO through a referral from Roy O. Roy is the former CEO of a mid-sized organization who graciously acts as a mentor for me over quarterly breakfasts and was referred by Paul E (see above). Our healthy balance sheet is due to Wayne’s oversight and guidance. I worked with Kim Geiser at Optum and am grateful that she agreed to lead our marketing efforts. Several others including Keisha, Sonal, Vivian, Jane and others step in as needed. Still others have joined us and since moved on to other opportunities but have had such a positive impact on our business.

Partnerships with other research organizations have also been an important part of Line of Sight. Doug at the Hedlund Group helps us when clients need help turning the insights we deliver into executable strategy steps. Christen B and David E worked with us to transition our clients to the Intelligence2day market intelligence platform when the opportunity presented itself to provide more features and value to our clients.        

Our growth and gratitude.

I had learned early on in my career from Karen K, my boss when I was with the Deluxe Sales force, to never burn bridges. Besides Deluxe and UnitedHealth/Optum, I had also worked at Jostens doing similar work in market research/competitive intelligence/strategy, and those relationships were vital to getting the business off the ground. From there we grew mainly through referrals and word of mouth. Bill P, former Optum CEO, graciously made several introductions. Cynthia B connected us with several business leaders. Others brought us along with them when they transitioned to new employers. Through the years, our clients, some of whom are among the most respected brands in the world, have trusted us with their deepest vulnerabilities and some of their most sensitive and strategic challenges. And they have given us the opportunity to do very interesting and creative work, and partner with them to solve their challenges. But most importantly it is the individuals, the amazing people within the organizations who have made it all worthwhile.

In the end, while we have in place the right skills, processes, tools and culture to be successful, 20 years in business with Line of Sight is about people – the people who have influenced me and leant their advice, those who have worked with me to serve our clients or with whom I’ve partnered, and those who have trusted us with their business. For all of them, and many not mentioned here, I am truly grateful.

03 Nov

Exploring the Breadth of Intelligence Program Applications

One of the changes we’ve observed since 2020 and the emergence of the COVID pandemic has been an increase in demand from business organizations for ways to systematically monitor and act on changes in their external environment (i.e. markets, competition and change drivers).

While the onslaught of the pandemic was, of course, an extreme disruptor, it seems that it has helped organizations realize that many aspects of their world are outside of their control. For example, customer and competitor behavior can be both un-knowable and un-controllable. Instead, successful organizations manage this risk category by systematically monitoring important changes, evaluating leading indicators, and adjusting their strategies as necessary.

Our ‘Strategic Intelligence Program’ solution has three primary elements: 1) monitoring of open sources such as industry press, websites, business filings, etc. 2) a shared, cloud-based repository where market and industry ‘observations’ are compiled, organized and analyzed, and 3) a variety of reporting options such as alerts and summaries to disseminate objective insight.  

Conceptually, the business organizations we work with apply this capability in a similar way. Starting with how they want to define their market landscape, they watch for data points that represent indicators of potential change that would impact their business and then prioritize those for deeper investigation leading to potential strategic shifts. However, while the basic concept is the same, we see it applied in many different and creative ways to get the most out of their programs.

Here’s just a peek at some of that range of application:

  • Competitor tracking. Some companies focus very narrowly on a small set of competitors with an interest in a deep understanding of their competing businesses. They might be interested in specific operations or product details, or sales and marketing capabilities, or key personnel and have a very specific plan for how they will act on the information. 
  • General competitor and industry tracking. This application involves watching broadly across the entire industry for competitive and change drivers that may impact the business. Because the scope is so broad, usually these companies prioritize the competition using different levels (e.g. A, B and C competitors) and identify other priorities as ‘key topics’ to best allocate time and resources.
  • Defensive intelligence to maintain a leadership position. Some companies are already the market leader but face new competition from market entrants. They wish to maintain that leadership position and use the intelligence findings to develop advertising campaigns or new product enhancements that will disrupt the competition and erect mobility barriers to maintain their lead.
  • Growth related intelligence to enable partnerships or M&A. These companies have chosen partnerships or mergers and acquisitions as their primary growth vehicles and apply their intelligence resources toward scouting for acquisition targets, keeping an eye on similar activity by their competitors and industry change opportunities that open new opportunities.  
  • Innovation. These businesses are in industries where growth is achieved through innovation related to products, customer experience, services and even business models. In the case of one of our clients, changes in information technology are enabling an entirely new set of competitors with different business and operating models to gain a foothold. We closely watch both the legacy space and the emerging competition to help the company identify and prioritize innovation opportunities that will maintain its market leading position. Another client is 3+ years out from product launch. We help them understand where the future industry, technologies and markets will be as they develop out the product.
  • Growth though sales support. Some programs are focused on supporting their B-to-B sales teams. They can be focused on competitors, on customers and markets or on both.
  • Competitive pricing intelligence. In this industry, consumer pricing and terms change constantly. We assist this company to systematically capture those changes in price so that they can arm their sales force and target channel intermediaries to gain new business.
  • COVID intelligence. This company in the health services industry is highly impacted by the COVID pandemic. It uses our intelligence to understand the effects of the pandemic on its customer base, making marketing and operations decisions based on it.  
  • New market development. This U.S. based company was looking at international markets as its primary arena for growth. Looking broadly at selected Asian and European markets, our intelligence enabled them to identify underserved segments and market entry points.       
  • Account management intelligence. This company offers its services to large and mid-sized businesses in selected industries and maintains ongoing relationships with them. In this case, our intelligence is used by account managers to stay abreast of strategic changes in their clients to provide communication and outreach opportunities and to identify sales opportunities and deepen sales relationships. 
  • Ad Tracking. This large banking company wants to understand the positioning messages of its competition when advertising to business customers. We compile banner, video and other ad types from various sources, and then use AI and text analytics to tell the story for the client’s marketing and advertising teams.
  • Advisory board intelligence. Another company maintains several advisory boards consisting of industry thought leaders and entrepreneurs. Our intelligence efforts here provide insight into the activities of these leaders to help our client prepare for board meetings and maintain communications.
  • Alumni intelligence. This higher education company asks us to track a set of high-net worth individuals, and uses the insights to deepen relationships for fund raising purposes.     

Over the 20 years that we’ve been doing it, market and competitive intelligence has evolved from a little-known and little-understood back-office secret into a nuts-and-bolts discipline that helps form the foundation of every agile and successful business from small to large. These examples illustrate how firms are becoming more mature in their application of market intelligence capabilities by focusing them in ways that directly impact their business model and provide maximum ROI.

Line of Sight Group can help you build an intelligence program unique to your business needs. Contact us for more information!



17 Aug

Utilizing Planned Opportunism to Prepare for the Future

With the U.S. and global society beginning to open up following the pandemic, the idea of ‘Planned Opportunism’ is a concept that organizations can use to quickly take advantage of new opportunities and jump ahead of their competition.

As defined by Vijay Govindarajan, Coxe Distinguished Professor at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, “Planned Opportunism” is the term for responding to an unpredictable future by paying attention to weak signals.

“Early evidence of emerging trends from which it is possible to deduce important changes in demography, technology, customer tastes and needs, and economic, environmental, regulatory, and political forces. That attention gives rise to fresh perspectives and nonlinear thinking, which help an organization imagine and plan for various plausible futures. Planned Opportunism is a discipline that creates a “circulatory system” for new ideas; develops the capacity to prioritize, investigate, and act on those ideas; and builds an adaptive culture that embraces continual change.” [1]

Planned Opportunism requires organizations to understand that the future is unpredictable and uncontrollable – especially the environment outside an organization’s four walls involving customers, competitors and trends such as technological changes or economic cycles. However, the ability to diverge from linear thinking and identify weak signals and emerging trends, prioritize them and then test and learn these, is the best way to control and plan for the future. 

While the competition may be stuck focusing on current successes, existing structure and the status quo, those with the ability to lean forward and grab subtle daily cues into the future can leapfrog the competition. These daily cues should be gathered beyond leadership and strategic insight teams. Organizations can benefit from cross-functional brainstorming sessions or idea submission processes to funnel in a large breadth of ideas to test.

Using Planned Opportunism will shift perspectives and reveal new business opportunities by challenging the current visions, beliefs and values of an organization.

How can Line of Sight Group help organizations achieve Planned Opportunism?

When we work with our clients to help them plan for, and take advantage of, future changes in their business environment, our approach is to help them create that ‘circulatory system’ through our Strategic Intelligence Program. The idea is simple. We cast a wide net over the entire business landscape in which our client operates and systematically use those weak signals to power strategic decisions and innovation. Working closely with the management team, we pay close attention to the changes that might result in opportunities or risks to their business. We then identify the kinds of market and industry signals that will indicate those changes and set up “listening posts” in the environment to capture the signal data and send it to a central repository. Then we analyze it using machine learning to identify and report on significant activity and trends.

Of course, these market and industry signals can be interpreted as opportunities, as risks, or as both. Once identified, the signals can be prioritized by analyzing them to understand size, industry and market consequences and implications for the organization itself.

For the highest priorities, we work with our clients to develop hypotheses about the future. Deep research aims to clarify the opportunity or risk and assess its future impact so that the management team has a high level of confidence and can have meaningful dialogue. Here we dissect the signals through a combination of secondary and primary research that works to understand the drivers and gain multiple perspectives through executive interviews.   

With the confidence gained through the research steps, the management team can now make judgements and decisions on small investments. Those that are promising are often moved into short, low-cost, low-risk experiments that further validate the opportunity or risk and give the management team the ability to begin making necessary resource allocation decisions. It is important to keep in mind that the future is not some far-off point. Instead, it arrives in daily doses. Successful organizations understand that the future is unpredictable, but they develop capabilities that enable them to identify weak signals and emerging trends and use them to better prepare for the future. Planned Opportunism starts with assembling the necessary tools, processes and expertise and then engaging in a systematic approach that will process and make sense of those daily doses of the future. The result is an adaptive culture that minimizes ‘fire drills’, embraces change and is prepared to move quickly and continuously to provide better value for their customers than the competition.     

[1] Govindarajan, 2016, https://hbr.org/2016/05/planned-opportunism)

17 Jun

Adapting your business to the post pandemic world

The return to normal is imminent. Vaccines are rolling out. Roadways, parks, stores and office buildings are bustling with activity. As we leap back to “normal,” it’s important to not simply dust off old strategies or programs designed for the pre-pandemic world. Rather, your time will be well spent evaluating the changed landscape around you to ensure your strategy is aligned with the needs of your target market.

What’s happened over the past year? In some respects, time stood still. Many corporate office desks remained untouched and long planned business strategies were put on hold in favor of quickly developed war plans to adapt to a world in pandemonium.  

But what has changed? Your industry. The environment, Your competition. There may be new competitors and forces that you didn’t think about before. Your competition may have built up new strengths that bring new risks to you. Or new growth opportunities may be emerging based on the “new normal.” Regardless, all have evolved to a point where you can no longer fully rely on the old intelligence you had on them.

And so has the customer journey changed. Consumers may choose or respond to products and services differently than they did in the past. They expect more flexibility but at the same time may have more patience or understanding. Brand loyalty and spend has changed either for the good or bad depending on the industry. What they value most in a company or its products has shifted. How and what they will ultimately choose to spend their resources on may be much different.

This profound change has created new needs for businesses and a fresh look on how they approach their market.

How can you best adapt to the new post pandemic world so you can RE-FOCUS, GROW AND PROTECT your business?

  1. Re-evaluate the macro external forces that drive your industry. How have societal forces changed and how might those changes affect your industry and your business? What new technologies have emerged? How have economic forces changed customer perceptions? Your business may be affected by changes in regulatory, legal and environmental forces. How will you respond? 
  2. Re-commit to a systematic and ongoing market and competitive intelligence program. Define clear responsibilities, objectives and outcomes. Build a small internal team or leverage a dedicated partner to identify and report on emerging opportunities and threats. 
  3. Re-prioritize growth opportunities that may have been on hold for the past year and a half. Do a ‘deep dive’ analysis. Where should we play? How will we differentiate? How can we get there? Without announcing your plans to the industry (ie: through a partner) talk to customers, competitors, supply-chain players and others. Is now the time to make those growth investments?
  4. Re-assess your value proposition with your current customer base by conducting win/loss analysis. How have customer needs changed? Do they still buy from you for the same reasons? How have the perceptions of your brand changed? How do customers perceive your brand relative to the competition?
  5. Re-evaluate your strategic plan for 2022. Re-visit the pre-pandemic assumptions made about the external environment and determine how those assumptions need to change. Then update and adjust your plans using the market and competitive intelligence from the steps above.

Changes in the external environment – customers, competition and driving forces – can often represent both a threat and an opportunity. However, it is only those organizations that dedicate adequate attention and resources to understanding those changes through ongoing intelligence, analysis, action and feedback that are able to ‘outsmart’ their competition and turn threats into opportunities – and successfully take advantage of them.

19 Mar

Note to clients, partners and friends re: coronavirus

Dear clients, business partners and friends of Line of Sight Group 

Obviously, we are living through extraordinary times. Over the past three weeks, we’ve seen dramatic changes in our basic way of life: rising cases of the deadly coronavirus, financial system meltdown, panic consumer buying, cancelled events, schools closed…and general confusion. 

We would like to reassure you that Line of Sight Group is monitoring this situation closely to ensure we can meet the ongoing needs of our clients. We are following the protocols and recommendations from health and local and national government authorities, and each of us is aware of our own responsibility to face the pandemic.  

As a global market research and competitive strategy consulting organization, our assets are primarily digital and knowledge-based, and one of our key strengths is ‘teamwork’. While we have an office in Minneapolis/St. Paul MN, our staff primarily work from their home locations across the United States while seamlessly collaborating by using secure technology. This means that we expect minimal disruption to our activities and ability to continue to deliver high quality and objective business insights.   

This crisis is demonstrating that market and competitive intelligence capabilities are more critical than ever, and we are thankful to work with customers who understand the power of data and insights, and use it every day to make high impact strategic decisions. 

Thank you for your continued trust and confidence in these uncertain times. Please reach out to us if you need any further assistance. We are ready to help. 

20 Oct

PDMA Attendees Well Represented on the Product Lifecycle Curve

PDMA Survey

It was great to see and meet everyone at the international PDMA conference this week in Atlanta.

Thanks to all who participated in our ‘research project’ to document and visualize where attendee’s products and/or companies reside on the product lifecycle curve.

Overall, there was a broad and fairly even distribution of where attendees placed their products and/or companies. Even one admitted that his product is in the decline stage. Some product managers explained that while their company overall was in a mature stage, they were involved in new product initiatives in the Development or Growth stages.

Understanding the external environment and developing product strategy is, of course, different depending on the lifecycle stage. In the development stage it is crucial to understand ‘can we win?’ in order to determine whether or not to invest. In the growth and shakeout stages, product success is more about the product and features and understanding how to emphasize strengths and exploit competition’s weaknesses and make investments in product features that sustain the unique value. In maturity and declining stages, strategies often involve maximizing efficiencies and strengthening go-to-market capabilities, while monitoring for disruption and finding new ways to innovate.

We enjoyed the excellent presenters and panels, the innovation tour, the friendly people, and the entire venue and event.

Steve and Brett

05 Oct

External vs. Internal: The Difference between Strategy and Planning


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.


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.

10 Aug

Getting it Right with This Year’s Strategic Planning Process

While August can be a time to catch one’s breath and take a vacation day or two, corporate executives know that the annual strategic planning season is right around the corner with its team meetings, long days, spreadsheets and budgets.

So before the mad rush of planning begins, I’d like to reflect on possibly the most important aspect of the strategic planning process – the external environmental assessment.

It might be helpful to start where you may be…

  • Each year do you lay out your plans for revenue growth only to scramble by mid-year to make up lost ground or explain the gaps?
  • Does your strategic plan faithfully produce a budget that needs significant revisions based on unforeseen changes by customers, competitors or suppliers?
  • Is your strategic planning process more about ‘planning’ than it is about ‘strategy’?
  • Have you ever explained a setback as being due to ‘events beyond our control’?
  • Can employees logically connect their own jobs to the strategies of the company?
  • Would you describe the assessment phase of your strategic planning process as a ‘fire drill’ with lots of activity, spreadsheets and charts but little real impact on strategic decisions?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might like to read on…

Nearly all current models of strategic planning include a formal assessment of the firm’s internal and external environment – its core competencies, markets, competition, and economic and other factors impacting its business.

In the popular Balanced Scorecard method, for example, the Assessment phase comes between evaluation of last year’s plan and setting next year’s strategy. The Assessment includes a deep analysis of the external environment leading to a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) that enables development of strategies that are focused on the customer needs and the value proposition.


The QuickMBA website provides a simple view of the process with Environmental Scanning as the step required before any strategic planning takes place. Environmental Scanning includes an internal as well as an external analysis, which consists of a competitive analysis of the firm’s industry and the macro-environment (driving forces, trends, etc.) that impact the firm.


A Forbes article for small businesses entitled “Five Steps to a Strategic Plan” puts it even more simply. Step one is called ‘Determine where you are’. The author warns, however, that many businesses get caught in the trap of seeing themselves as they want to see themselves, not how others view them. To get an accurate picture of where the business is, an internal and external audit should be performed to get a clear understanding of the marketplace, competitive environment and the organization’s competencies.

Getting It Right

The importance of getting the environmental assessment right cannot be emphasized enough. After all, the organization’s entire strategy depends on knowing who it is and where it is relative to customers and competition. The old adage of ‘garbage in/garbage out’ is relevant here because information that is incomplete or off-target naturally leads to poor strategic decisions.

Understand the External Environment First

Instead of beginning with the internal assessment (S and W), we see many organizations turn this around and begin a comprehensive SWOT with the external assessment (O and T) because for market driven organizations it’s OTSW, not SWOT.

We’ve seen that starting with the identification of external opportunities and threats leads the organization to a better understanding of their true strengths and resource and capability gaps (weaknesses) relative to future industry needs and their competitors. In addition, our strategic partner, Doug Hedlund, has taught OTSW to his MBA students since 2009 and receives continual validation that OTSW provides better external and internal insights than the traditional SWOT approach.

Work With a Partner

Quite simply, an external partner can create relationships and gain access to customer and competitive information that those within organizations cannot. This is important because the ability to ‘see around corners’ and connect the dots better than your competition depends on information that may not be readily accessible. Websites, published industry studies and even your own market research surveys provide little advantage if the information and surveys can be easily duplicated by your competitors.

An objective partner can also provide a unique vantage point that is critical when evaluating whether or not your ‘strengths’ are truly a source of competitive advantage or merely ‘table-stakes’.

Last, an external partner has the ability to focus its resources squarely on the ‘strategy’ element of your strategic planning process and contribute context and insight from adjacent industries and other markets that you may not as easily recognize.

Plan Ahead

It is critical that organizations provide adequate time for the external assessment phase of their strategic planning. In order to avoid ineffective ‘fire-drills’ the assessment should be conducted well in advance of the actual planning meetings which means that, for planning sessions scheduled in October, for example, the external assessment should begin in August or early September.

Do It This Year

For business organizations today, the pace of change is ever accelerating, driving the potential for disruption and the stakes for making the wrong move. This year, organizations that begin their planning process with a deep, foundational understanding of their external environment will be better positioned to objectively view themselves, make smarter data-driven decisions and see better alignment between their strategic initiatives and execution levers. There is no better time than this planning season to start.

07 Jul

The Challenge of Being Different


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

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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.