Barriers to Success, Why do so many Companies Erect Them?

Leadership changes bring new processes, Alas, sometimes they erect barriers that work to impair progress. Product Management must work around them.

The Dudeis back at you for a Friday afternoon post. Bad time for traffic, but he can’t wait. Perhaps it is different where you are, but he suspects that this problem is endemic in medium to large companies.

Here’s the situation: You have a leadership change. The new CEO comes in and naturally wants to make changes, ‘cuz his way is better. You roll your eyes, and go with the flow. So far so good.

What happens next? Some silly rules about project initiation, and go to market expectations. This is where the senior-senior management team (sometimes called the Executive Leadership Team, or the Executive Steering Committee) needs to be convinced of a project’s worthiness. This can happen up front, at the start of a process. Or it can happen at the back end, at launch time, to gauge investment.

Up front, itis a lot like “Bowling for Dollars” where a BU’s product management and marketing team pitch to the ELT the merits of their efforts, and beg permission. I have seen some really great projects, well documented, and solid business plans shot down due to personality conflicts. Perhaps one of the execs doesn’t like the pitchman? Or they like the idea, but want to funnel it to another BU that they prefer. Or, they have a pet project (money pit) that they want to keep flush with cash. Whatever the reason, a lot of great ideas die here.

But as bad as the up front denial is, the shooting down of a project near launch is doubly insulting. You know that favoritism is at play if there are things like an “A” launch, a “B” launch, and a “C” launch. Often this is couched with phrases like “investment, GTM efforts/scope” or other euphemisms. Unless you are in the preferred category, where you get lots of support up and down the management chain, you are far better focusing on the lower tiers. (note: This assumes that there are many competitive groups chasing the marketing dollars).

All this may seem OK, or you may wonder why it is a problem. However, let’s assume that you are a small BU, with a non-core product. However, you have a large installed base of rabidly loyal customers. Also assume that Corporate has tried (repeatedly) to reduce your R&D spend to put you on a glide path to shutdown (say 4% of revenues). But time and again, you are able to deliver, annually, significant improvements and evolution to your product, driving license growth. But the new criteria are focused at preventing you from operating under the radar. Other groups are eying your headcount, and rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of getting your resources.

How to respond? Fight harder. Deliver more value. Deliver more margin to the bottom line. Prove that you are as scrappy as anyone. Embarrass the Big Dog groups with 10X your development staff. You come to the party to kick ass and chew bubblegum, but you just ran out of bubblegum…

Perhaps as companies grow, it is inevitable that such processes evolve. Perhaps it is useful to prevent competing groups working on the same solution. But for one in the trenches, it can cause a lot heartburn.

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