27 Dec

How Stealth Technology Became a Silver Bullet

An F-117 Nighthawk taxis down the runway before its flight during the Holloman Air and Space Expo at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., Oct. 27, 2007. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Colbert) (Released)

Stealth technology provides the U.S. military with a dramatic competitive advantage in battle and as a deterrent to potential aggressors. Yet, its development nearly didn’t happen. The mathematical theories upon which stealth technology is based were actually developed by a Soviet scientist whose superiors were absolutely uninterested in his “crazy” theories and confusing equations.  His frustration with his superiors led the scientist to publish a paper in a scientific journal.  Here’s an example of a stealth equation for the strength of the reflected radar signal:

stealth-equation

A Lockheed engineer in the course of keeping current discovered the Soviet Scientist’s article and believed that his Soviet counterpart was on to something.  He approached his management and received a small budget and team to explore the possibilities and was set up in the Skunk Works operation at Lockheed.  He led a team that developed the original stealth fighter.   After building the initial prototype, he and his team invited some senior Lockheed engineers to review their work and provide feedback.  The senior engineers were used to building speedy fighters with smooth, space age contours versus the strange looking, flat paneled surfaces called for in stealth theory.   Many of these senior engineers doubted that the plane would even get off the ground.

Undaunted, the Skunk Works team continued their work and completed the prototype.  By this time, they were nearly out of money and they had no orders yet for stealth fighters.  They realized that they needed a straightforward method to demonstrate their value proposition.   A radar scientist was brought in to perform some testing that involved gluing ball bearings to the nose of the prototype and zapping it with the radar gun. This revealed that the plane’s electronic radar profile was equal to that of a 1/8” ball bearing, about this size:ball-bearing-1-4

Over the next few months, the sales effort constituted rolling these small ball bearings across the desks of USAF generals. These brief and to-the-point sales presentations were accompanied by one simple question, “What if this was your fighter’s profile on enemy radar?” This technique led to billions of dollars and several generations of stealth aircraft sales to the U.S. Military.

There are many lessons to be learned from this story:

  • Research the external environment – the foundations of stealth technology were discovered in an obscure technical paper published by a “competitor”
  • Trust your instincts – “we’ve always done it this way” mentality nearly grounded stealth technology
  • Marketing messaging should be simple – while stealth technology is complex (theories and equations), its value proposition (radar profile of ball bearing) is not
  • Engage and sell the value proposition to those who can buy it – the USAF generals had all read and been influenced by Sun Tzu’s Art of War and sought “silver bullets” like strategic advantage and deterrence, not technical theories

In this case, the go-to-market team collaborated to research, develop, market and sell their new offer. The rest is history.

22 Nov

How do election results change my company’s strategic, business, and product plan assumptions?

Were your strategic, business, and product plan assumptions based on one candidate winning or did you have scenarios for either outcome?  Did you have a scenario in which one party would control the Presidency, House of Representatives and the Senate?  How dependent were your strategy decisions on U.S. trade policy, corporate and individual tax policy, the Affordable Care Act, immigration policy, the strength of the dollar, student debt forgiveness, a national minimum wage, environmental regulation, etc.?  Will policy and regulatory changes under single party control make your industry more attractive or less?  How will your competitors react to these changes?  Will political, regulatory, supplier, customer, investor, and competitor reactions be positive, disruptive or destructive to your industry and business?

If the questions above left you scratching your head it’s time to pull the strategic, business, and product level plans out and review the assumptions on which your forecasts and decisions were made.  Depending on your industry, you may need to simply update or completely redo your external analysis to determine the political, economic, consumer, environmental and regulatory implications for your industry and business.  Next, identifying what actions your competitors may take in this updated external analysis and monitoring for leading indicators that may signal competitor actions will position your company to be pro-active vs. reactive.

 

Doug Hedlund
President, The Hedlund Group, LLC
doughedlund@hedlundgroupllc.com

Doug provides Line of Sight Group clients corporate, business unit, and product level strategy development and execution facilitation and guidance. Doug’s disciplined approach to strategy development and execution helps our clients translate our industry research and competitive intelligence into focused, actionable strategies and execution plans. Doug has evolved the disciplines and tools he utilizes over a twenty-seven year career in corporate development and strategy leadership roles at Deluxe Corporation, CUNA Mutual Group, and Mayo Clinic. In addition, Doug has taught the Strategic Management Capstone course in the MBA programs at the University of St. Thomas and Augsburg College since 2008 and 2009, respectively and has helped numerous organizations formulate successful strategy and strategy execution plans.

10 Nov

OUR STRATEGY ISN’T WORKING

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Our strategy doesn’t seem to be working.  What’s wrong?  When company and business unit leaders or product and market managers share this question with me I answer with the following question:  Is it your strategy, strategy execution or both?  In most cases, they don’t know, so I take them down a path of a few more questions that include:

First, are your strategy decisions aligned and compatible with your company’s vision, mission and core values?  If not, execution can be very difficult because your company’s mission and core values are foundational elements of your company’s culture.  If not aligned and compatible, Peter Drucker’s statement “culture eats strategy for breakfast” can cause a strategy which looked great on paper to fail.

Second, are your strategy decisions based on a comprehensive identification and assessment of your companies opportunities, threats, strengths and weaknesses?  Successful strategies exploit company’s opportunities and strengths and mitigate company’s threats and weaknesses.  The absence of comprehensive industry, market and competitive research lead to strategies that can fail miserably.  Absent outside objective research and analysis companies tend to overstate their strengths and underestimate their weaknesses.  When viewed through internal lenses strengths may look like competitive advantages when in reality they are simply table stakes and offer no competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Third, are the required execution levers in place for your strategy to be successful?  The execution lever checklist begins with the right leadership, people, organization structure, systems and processes, and culture.  Keep in mind that current execution levers don’t necessarily work with strategy decisions that include new products, markets, channels, geographies, strategic partnerships and/or acquisitions.

Finally, superior strategy and strategy execution requires focus, discipline and alignment.

 

Doug Hedlund
President, The Hedlund Group, LLC

Doug provides Line of Sight Group clients corporate, business unit, and product level strategy development and execution facilitation and guidance. Doug’s disciplined approach to strategy development and execution helps our clients translate our industry research and competitive intelligence into focused, actionable strategies and execution plans. Doug has evolved the disciplines and tools he utilizes over a twenty-seven year career in corporate development and strategy leadership roles at Deluxe Corporation, CUNA Mutual Group, and Mayo Clinic. In addition, Doug has taught the Strategic Management Capstone course in the MBA programs at the University of St. Thomas and Augsburg College since 2008 and 2009, respectively and has helped numerous organizations formulate successful strategy and strategy execution plans.

27 Oct

Disruption and Innovation – Two Sides of the Same Coin

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Last week, Line of Sight Group attended the Product Development Management Association (PDMA) Annual Conference in Atlanta.  Line of Sight Group was also an event sponsor. This is one of the ways that we keep a pulse on the opportunities and threats faced by the industries, companies and roles that we serve.  We did a little “informal” research project with the attendees who visited our booth that you can see here: http://lineofsightgroup.com/pdma-attendees-well-represented-on-the-product-lifecycle-curve/

Amongst the three days of breakout sessions, workshops and networking, there were three keynote presentations that really explored disruption and innovation at the business model level. Calling it innovation or disruption is really a matter of where you sit.

The first was Terry Jones, founder of Travelocity, chairman founder of Kayak.com and now, Wayblazer. He spoke about the trials and tribulations of the travel industry, making million dollar mistakes, but finally getting it right by bundling air, hotel and cars into a single trip over a single end-user site. Here is his website where you can get his slides: http://www.tbjones.com/ 

The second was Alan Amling, VP Corp Strategy at UPS. Here is his actual TED talk on the future of distribution that will not only include boxes on trucks, but drones, high speed cross country tubes and sending part specs to 3-D printers for manufacturing closer to the requester. It is UPS vision called, the My Way Highway:     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pRaivgVBCB4

The third was Hania Jarrah Poole, VP Turner Sports, who talked about creating the March Madness, multi-platform, streaming offer, in a matter of weeks, to show alongside Turner’s subscription-based cable offer.  Here’s an abstract of her talk: http://www.pim.pdma.org/p/cm/ld/fid=2034 

All of these presentations revealed how business model innovation and disruption are different sides of the same coin. There were great examples regarding the pace of technology, the readiness of customers and the subsequent impact on new business models. It struck me that the most innovative/disruptive business models were the simplest, too.  These presentations provided a lot of fodder for discussion and were great for linking product management techniques to business model innovation, as well as go-to-market initiatives to strategy.

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

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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.

27 Sep

Is it Time to Do Some Disrupting of Your Own?

Much has been written about the fear of being disrupted.  Maybe it is actually time to do a little disrupting of your own and strike fear into others. Here’s an example of a company thoroughly understanding their external environment, making a calculated move and capitalizing.

The client was a successful, mid-tier player in a maturing market that caught the attention of some very large players who sought to bolster their own market shares by buying up niche players and migrating these customers to the large player’s own platform. In one case, the large player had bought a niche player and had announced that the niche player’s platform was being phased out in a few months.

This served as a trigger for the client who sensed that there might be a fleeting opportunity to capture a few new customers by virtue of the change. The strategy we embarked on was to swiftly interview a number of decision makers, both wins and losses that the client had experienced against the niche player over the past year.  We discovered that while the niche player’s client base was satisfied with their current application, they were okay with a switch as long as the key functionality was covered, but what they feared the most was having to incur the pain of what they believed would be a lengthy, costly migration.

This was a relatively surprising finding as we were all thinking that it would be about closely matching the core functionality “to a tee,” which would have been costly for the client to implement. With this information, the client’s product managers were able to focus and create a comprehensive migration bundle that addressed and removed the pain identified in the interviews. It was also far less expensive than implementing changes in their offer to match the incumbent’s offer. With the ease of migration message clearly articulated in some pin point marketing, along with an educated and well-motivated sales force, this campaign resulted in millions of dollars of takeaway revenue for the client in a short period of time. It was far more than they had expected to obtain.

A few months later, one of the other large players bought a niche player and the client got very excited, thinking that we could notch another similar success.  In the course of our interviews, we uncovered a much different attitude in this niche player’s base.  Their concerns were being addressed and they were “drinking the Kool-Aid.”  The client did not go after this “false opportunity” and kept their powder dry to disrupt another day.

Keeping an eye on the external market enabled this company to spot trigger events, direct the research effort and act accordingly.  In one case, they scored a big win and in the other avoided unnecessary costs.

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.

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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.

QuickMBAStrategicPlanningProcess

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.

22 Jul

Disruptive Forces in Financial Services

Competition in Financial Services has always been intense amongst industry rivals. Increasingly, firms find themselves competing with Financial Technology (FinTech) start-ups going after a selective slice of the market with a disruptive offer.  Many FinTech firms have billion dollar valuations, are flush with cash, and are leveraging low cost, cloud-based delivery models. While incumbent firms have invested heavily over the years in a combination of technology-based infrastructures like ATM networks, branch office makeovers, online services and mobile apps, they still feel vulnerable to the threat of FinTech firms grabbing market share in specific areas like retail payments or online lending.

When clients share these kinds of challenges with Line of Sight Group, our first inclination is to turn our eyes and ears to the external environment and to connect the dots around what is happening, as well as what is likely to happen.  Thus informed, threats and opportunities emerge and become discussion points for the formation of strategic plans and subsequent go-to-market initiatives.  Financial Services firms have a vast array of levers to pull when it comes to competing successfully.  Technology is but one of these levers. Some firms find that their physical locations can be leveraged if they reconfigure them into optimized networks based on the specific needs of their clients.  In some cases, they may opt for a smaller branch footprint but implement Interactive Teller Machines that match a specific financial expert with a client virtually. Other Financial Services firms are partnering with FinTech firms by bringing new offers into these networks and blending them into a portfolio of offers.  Another tactic is to conduct hundreds of controlled tests annually (AB Testing) designed to gauge and measure consumer preferences and to then create new offers based on the results.

Line of Sight Group Financial Services clients utilize a number of methods to listen to the external environment in which they play. Some firms utilize strategic competitive monitoring on an ongoing basis to gather, sort and analyze value propositions, pricing and customer satisfaction levels. Financial Services clients who position large commercial offers utilize Win/Loss Analysis to understand why they win and lose deals. Firms seeking to enter a new market employ a Competitive Landscape Analysis to gauge the status quo and to look for unmet needs before making the move to invest.

By understanding the external environment on a continual basis, Financial Services firms can better navigate the ever changing mix of consumer preferences, technological advances and business model iterations to make good decisions. Technology is important, but rarely the only factor to consider.

12 Jul

Top Five Digital Health Trends for 2016: Disruption Can be a Game Changer if a Business Can Predict it

According to Accenture’s report, Top Five Digital Health Trends for 2016, “Disruption can be a game changer if a business can predict it.”  Here are the trends they identify and break down:
  • Intelligent Automation – big data, digital apps and devices handle the basics allowing people resources to focus on higher value tasks
  • Liquid Workforce – technology has enabled anywhere, anytime access to healthcare. Crowd sourcing and workforce flexibility are leading to better outcomes
  • Platform Economy – technology-enabled networks and the ability for consumers, providers, payers, and employers to all access them yield better outcomes at scale
  • Predictable Disruption – once the ecosystem is established, it becomes more powerful with the addition of new, innovative offers. Many are coming from outside of health care such as gaming and consumer-based technologies
  • Digital Trust – as ecosystems grow larger, vulnerabilities increase.  Yet, consumer demand for security and privacy remain high

Predicting disruption across digital health encompasses a dizzying array of forces at play – technology, economic business model, consumer engagement, regulatory, and more.  A thorough understanding of the competitive landscape where you play is a great first step to take if your market is rapidly changing.

This link will take you to a Sample Report for Line of Sight Group’s Competitive Landscape Program, making sense of disruptive and chaotic forces for our clients: Competitive Landscape Sample Report.