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GUEST ARTICLE
The Product Pivot: The Gift That Keeps On Ticking
November 2016

By: Steve Blue

Whether you know it or not, your business is a time-bomb. The seconds are counting down until it explodes into a million pieces, littering the marketplace like a war-zone.

And it’s not just you. Every company is on a going-out-of-business curve unless it constantly reinvents itself. Examples abound of businesses that clung wistfully their old products and decried anything new. Kodak failed to reinvent itself even though it clearly saw the move toward digital film. Netflix assassinated Blockbuster. Uber is destroying the entire taxi business. And what is the taxi industry’s response? Cling to the old model and ask the government to protect it. These are all examples of companies that chose to cling to the tried-and-true but destined-to-fail old ways. All because of a failure to execute what is called “the product pivot”.

The product pivot is shedding the old skin of dying product lines and weathered technology and reinventing new ones to fit the times and the changing market conditions. It’s taking an old-line company and transforming it to a digital dynamo.

If you haven’t solidly positioned your company for the digital world, you soon will. Or you’ll soon be joining Kodak. But beware, the transition from not-digital to digital is as tricky and perilous as careening off an icy highway. It’s a high wire juggling act that requires the CEO’s constant attention to make mid-course corrections along the way. Lots of mid-course corrections.

But imagine this. You have picked a new technology with high margins. It has a solid market need and very little competition. You’ve retained a killer product development company that delivers the product to you on time and on budget. What a dream! But then it fails miserably. In fact, it never gets off the ground. Why? Your “new idea assassins killed it”.

Launching a new technology is never about the technology. That’s easy. Launching a new technology is all about the organization. That’s the hard part. Arguably, in the case of Kodak or Blockbuster, the impossible part. Kodak and Blockbuster had, or certainly could have procured the technology, but the organization refused to use it. Their “new idea assassins” killed it before it even get started. And the CEO’s never even knew what happened.

Choosing the technology or product will be simple, compared to the organizational challenges you will face. Choosing the technology is just an exercise in good old fashioned product marketing and development. But, do not underestimate the resistance you will encounter when you start your product pivot. Spend all your time and attention on how the organization is reacting to the change. Here are 7 things you should do:

1. Do an organization checkup. How ready is it to accept a new technology? In large organizations, conduct an online survey to determine the comfort level of your employees with the technology you have chosen.

2. The most important issue will be to deal with employees fears about what the new technology will mean to them. When people don’t understand something, they will resist it and sabotage it. People will naturally be fearful that the new technology will displace them. Make a commitment that this won’t happen. Put a plan in place to train people on the new technology, and communicate it widely.

3. Communication is the key. Remember the C’s of effective communication: Clear, convincing, and compelling. Clearly communicate the importance of the new technology. Paint a convincing picture of what will happen to the company if it is not successful in the endeavor. That means lost jobs so don’t sugar coat it. At the same time talk about the compelling and exciting future everyone will have if it is successful.

4. Make it very clear that this is not an optional transformation. Anyone who doesn’t support it can’t stay. It’s just that simple. And then you need to back that up with personnel changes, including termination if necessary. Don’t hesitate to make these changes because employees who are against it will find nefarious ways to scuttle it. And you won’t even know it until it is too late.

5. Stay very close to the project. Don’t delegate it. If you delegate it, you will soon discover it is stuck in the mud and no one knows why. Hold the team accountable to commit to action plans and dates. And question them intensely when they miss them. Expect missed commitments, after all it is all new to the organization. Just be sure the misses aren’t because of resistance. When you do discover the reason for the misses you will find they were caused by a lack of talent (which you can fix with new hires), a lack of resources (which you should also fix), or a lack of a clear product development plan.

6. Celebrate small successes. Recognize, reward, and promote the people who are making it happen. These people are your new technology heroes.

7. Don’t forget to pay attention to the rest of the business. You still have to maintain the old while you are creating the new. Don’t let the people in the old products feel like they are not important. You need them to keep performing well.

A product pivot is essential to ensure the prosperity of the company. The challenge of a product pivot is never in deciding what product to develop or the technology in developing it. The challenge is always organizational. Remember that the organization is likely to be against it because it represents a threat. Stay close the project and communicate constantly with the employees affected. And always remember to mind the store in the meantime.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Steve Blue is President and CEO of Miller Ingenuity and author of American Manufacturing 2.0: What Went Wrong and How to Make It Right. As a nationally recognized business transformation expert and speaker, Steve has been featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur, and The Wall Street Journal. He is founder and contributor to American City Business Journal’s “League of Extraordinary CEOs” series. To learn more about Steve Blue, please visit www.MillerIngenuity.com.


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