27 Feb

Clarity at the Intersection of Product Management/Development and Analytics

Blog pic - Big Board - Dr Strangelove

Last Wednesday, Line of Sight Group attended the PDMA MN Chapter Meeting entitled, “The Intersection of Product Management/Development and Analytics.” There was networking, a tour of Optum including their version of the “Big Board” to monitor data and trends worldwide, and a panel moderated by Dave Mathias that included practitioners Kristen Womack, Jasmine Russell, Edward Chenard, David Quimby, and Scott Thomsen. They had great stories and examples drawn from real world experiences.

The final question had the panelists share some favorite resources and tips, which I scrambled feverishly to write down:

You can find these resources and tips at the intersection of deep and practical.

12 Jan

Telephone Switch Created to Bypass Love Connection


Almon Strowger was one of two undertakers in a small town near Kansas City in the 1880’s. He had a good reputation and a nice business. Then, things started to change for the worse. He noticed that his business was dying off dramatically. His close reading of the local obituary notices revealed that he was not getting the usual amount of business. In those days, homes were equipped with telephones that were on shared party lines. People often listened in on their neighbor’s conversations, too. To facilitate connections between callers, there was an operator who worked a cord switchboard at the local telephone exchange. When there was a death to report, a call came into the operator who patched the call through to one of two local undertakers on an “every other one” basis. Or so Strowger thought…

What Strowger uncovered in his research was that his competitor was dating the telephone operator, hence giving him the inside track to most of the funeral business in town. Needless to say, this state of affairs greatly frustrated Strowger and he complained to the local telephone company authorities…to no avail. His business did not improve. The operator ultimately married Strowger’s competitor and continued to keep most of the funeral business in the family.

Finding no hope with the status quo, Strowger switched strategies. By burning the midnight oil and using hat pins and electromagnets, he cobbled together a device that by-passed the operator allowing subscribers to directly connect to one another. On March 12, 1889, he filed his patent application and it was issued to him on March 10, 1891 as patent No. 447,918. He had invented the Telephone Switch. Strowger went on to form the “Strowger Automatic Telephone Exchange” late in 1891. Strowger’s first customer was the telephone company in LaPorte, Indiana with 75 subscribers. Strowger continued making improvements on the telephone switch over the years. He added feature after feature to make the phones more reliable, easier to use and less time consuming to operate. Conversations over Strowger Switches were private and did not require any human intervention to operate.

Strowger bragged that his systems were “cuss-less, out-of-order-less and wait-less.” With all of this functionality, it is not surprising that the Strowger Switch became the standard technology platform upon which the US and British telephone systems were based on until the 1950’s and 1970’s respectively. Strowger eventually sold his company and patent to the Bell Company which later became AT&T, Verizon, GTE and Lucent.

There are many lessons to be learned in this story:

• Know your external environment. Strowger kept abreast by reading the obituaries – he knew that he was losing market share. He also learned that the operator was linked to his competitor
• Have a back-up plan when disruption occurs. When his complaints to the local telephone company went unaddressed, Strowger set out to develop technology that would neutralize his competitor’s primary advantage – the operator’s discretion
• Learn what the market wants and needs. Strowger was relentless in his quest to perfect person-to-person communications

Be flexible and open to the possibilities. Strowger did his research, uncovered a need, innovated, and sold a solution where there were no competitors…quite a switch!

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:


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.

27 Oct

Disruption and Innovation – Two Sides of the Same Coin


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.

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.

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.
16 Jun

Connecting the Dots at DEVICETALKS

Last week, Line of Sight Group attended DEVICETALKS 2016 hosted by MassDevice. The one day event was held on Monday June 6th at the Science Museum of Minnesota and attended by 250 people.  There were keynote panels from medical device leaders and break-out sessions focused on industry trends and product management topics. The main point of discussion was the shift in the industry towards Value Management and favorable outcomes across clinical and economic dimensions.  There was considerable discussion around the ramifications for stakeholders – patients, doctors, payers and providers – and what this would mean for medical device makers.  For them, it was clear that the current model of focusing on FDA approval followed closely by how to get reimbursed would be changing swiftly in favor of valued-based methods for delivery and reimbursement.  Much of this change is driven by multiple factors including cost, quality and regulatory pressures.

There were speakers from medical device leaders, cloud based providers, innovation leaders, product management leaders, media, association and attorneys.  The product management break-outs discussed the medical device industry entering a new phase of software-defined value leveraging new levels of automation, big data, analytics, globalization and higher levels of engagement by stakeholders across the board. One of the goals likely to be enabled by the aforementioned is Personalized Medicine that will lead to more customization, just-in-time/low/no inventory, and predictive therapies.  When it comes to big data, several of the medical device makers said that they would need to partner with several players like Google, Apple, IBM and HP concurrently.

In listening to the speakers and talking to attendees, a number of items stood out.  The medical device industry continues to consolidate. The big examples were Medtronic/Covidien and Abbott Laboratories/St. Jude. With the smaller, emerging section of the market, there is a notion that once they achieve a certain run rate of $10M-$30M, they will be acquired. This is a complex industry with plenty of chaos and disruption, a lot of moving parts including shifting economics, high levels of innovation and regulatory pressures.

Events like this allow Line of Sight Group to listen to the market, observe, interact, engage and make connections. One of the key aspects that our Integrated Strategic Analysis requires is the ability to connect the dots when researching clients’ external environments to help them focus their strategic and go-to-market initiatives so they can protect and grow their businesses.

08 Jun

Reflections on ATA 2016

Line of Sight Group participated in the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) Annual Conference and Tradeshow held last month in Minneapolis.  The annual gathering focused on telemedicine, digital, connected and mobile health.  The event attracted 6,000 people, had 75 educational sessions and a trade show exhibit hall that featured 300 technology product and service providers.

There were several trends we noted as we spoke with visitors to our booth, attended sessions and roamed the exhibit hall.  First of all, Telemedicine, Telehealth, and the many iterations of “Tele” have moved to the cloud.  As cloud technologies and services have matured and become trusted via advances in security, privacy, reliability, performance, and mobility, there are many options emerging including advanced collaboration and integration offers for attaching/monitoring the vast and growing number of Internet of Medical Things (IoMT).   Some things that were previously disrupted by technology (blood pressure monitors with no connectivity) are now re-enabled by newer technology (a smart phone picture of the device with readings uploaded to the cloud and integrated into the patient’s Electronic Health Record).

Next, we also heard from some attendees who’d attended the event in the past two decades that industry consolidation was very evident.  We heard from people from all across the spectrum who were interested in getting started with various tele-initiatives but were not sure where to start.  This even extended to well-funded firms very focused on one aspect of their business.

All told, we talked to technology providers, device makers, integration firms, compliance specialists, health plans, clinical professionals, members of the media, government officials and more to get a sense of what is happening and where the industry is headed.

Events like this allow Line of Sight Group to listen to the market, observe, interact, engage and make connections. One of the key aspects that our Integrated Strategic Analysis requires is the ability to connect the dots when researching a clients’ external environment to help them grow, protect and focus their business.

25 May

Challenges in Education Services

A series of recent blog posts by Maria Manning-Chapman, VP of Research, Education Services at the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA) provide solid insight for the broader education services market. Manning-Chapman analyzes two sides of the customer adoption coin and points out that while providers of education services have been historically focused on revenue, profitability, and market share, customers have begun to focus increasingly on business outcomes like higher levels of efficiency, improved satisfaction levels, and expense reduction. Providers are taking note of this trend and are thinking hard about these sought after outcomes. Each market or industry will have its own set of value determinants. What might have been a differentiator two years ago might now be considered “table stakes.” Most industries are also being impacted by disruption that is happening with increasing speed, fueled by technical innovation.

Providers have several challenges:

  • Moving further along into adoption services creates the requirement to know more about their clients and their external environment.
  • “Speed is God, Time the Devil.” Providers must deliver deeper knowledge continuously to a market that is changing at an ever increasing rate.
  • Most providers face low adoption and partial utilization by their clients.

When confronted with such challenges, it is sound to take stock of the external environment as a first step. This yields intelligence about opportunities and threats which when combined with knowledge of internal strengths and weaknesses creates the foundation for effective go-to-market planning. Leaders in the product management, marketing and sales functions that align their offers, messaging and positioning around business outcomes will have a higher likelihood of success. This is especially true for a market seeking business outcomes in rapidly changing times with historical adoption and utilization challenges.