I hadn’t planned to do a yearly wrap-up post, but here we go. 2017 words to wrap up my year.
On Dec 31, 2016 I was on a NAFTA Temporary Workers’ Visa sponsored by a company named ReadyTalk. My partner and I had started conversations with lawyers about her sponsoring me for Permanent Residency, which would free me from needing to be sponsored by an employer.
Although I started my career as a web developer, I’d shifted up from development to user experience to new product innovation and entrepreneurship. I applied what I knew about customer discovery, rapid prototyping and validating market needs to established companies, working first in the Innovation department at LexisNexis, and then starting and managing the dedicated innovation team at ReadyTalk.
But it was always working for someone else.
2017 started off with a bang. Within the month of January, my father suffered a massive heart attack (he made it through, thank goodness), Sara and I got married in Hawaii, we started the permanent residency process, ReadyTalk got acquired, and my temporary work visa became invalid (because the company who’d sponsored me no longer existed.)
Oh, and I took the time to register “Frameplay Consulting LLC.”
My immigration paperwork included a request for an Employment Authorization Document, which would let me temporarily work in the US while we were waiting for the permanent residency process to move forward. You may have seen a lot of blogging from me in the early months of the year, because I wasn’t authorized to work. So, I guess I marketed? :-)
I wasn’t 100% sure consulting was going to be the right path for me, but it was actually a job interview that convinced me this was the way to go. A great hiring manager over at Oracle asked me what options I was considering, and as we talked through it, I realized I had to give consulting a try. Otherwise I would always wonder.
And part of me also felt that the timing was oddly perfect. With Sara and I getting married and the permanent residency paperwork filed, I was finally free to start something on my own. The ReadyTalk acquisition meant the baby bird was pushed out of the nest.
The other tricky part of my work situation was that I didn’t want to apply for another temporary work visa while my permanent residency application was being processed. I assumed a request for a temporary visa would flag something in my request to stay in the US permanently. So I actually didn’t think I could get a new job here until the Employment Authorization Document came through.
(Americans: you’ve probably never paid much attention, but almost every job application you complete asks you if you’re legally eligible to work in the country. For over 15 years now, I’ve hesitated at that question. I’m legally eligible… IF your company sponsors me for a visa. Is that legally eligible, or not?)
So from February 2nd til May, I wasn’t able to work. My Employment Authorization Document arrived the first week of May, I attended the Front End of Innovation conference the second week of May and immediately kicked off some subcontracting work that lasted until September.
The work could have continued longer, but it had morphed from customer discovery and innovation into product/project management. I’d explicitly made the decision to give up a steady salary product management role to go into consulting, so I sure wasn’t going to let my first consulting gig become that type of work (with hourly billing — *shudder*)!
I knew going into it that Innovation consulting was a bit of a weird offering. Companies know they need sales, and development, and ideally design. But innovation?
When does a company need innovation, and is that something you just Google? Can you outsource innovation?
There’s plenty of lively debate about whether innovation should be everyone’s job. I hold to the belief that if everyone is responsible, no one is accountable. If you have a product manager with OKRs to increase sales and usage of their product, they’re not looking for ways to disrupt said product.
New product concepts are fragile, and they’ll be crushed if you don’t put someone in charge of trying to grow them.
It takes certain skills to design and test a new product concept with early adopters, and others to optimize the heck out of an enterprise-level system.
Can you guess which one Frameplay was designed to help with?
Opportunities go through two stages: Exploration and Exploitation. Exploration is fraught with risk, and needs to be measured differently than exploitation. Different people thrive in these different environments.
When a startup is just *ahem* starting up, they are in the exploration stage. Looking for Problem-Solution and Product-Market Fit. After that, they move into Exploitation (execution) mode, focusing on scaling and getting the most out of the opportunity they’ve uncovered.
As companies grow, they introduce processes and performance metrics designed to reduce variability in outputs. But standardization naturally discourages spontaneous innovation.
For the past nine years, I’ve partnered with teams to force them to see beyond “the ways things have always been”. Sure, not everyone I’ve worked with has been overly receptive to this way of thinking, but it’s recognized at the leadership level as important.
I recommend having a dedicated innovation team working on exploring new product and service innovation concepts, but I know that not every company can support having a large “Exploration” team all the time.
I designed Frameplay to help midsized companies bring on resources on a per-project basis, when they have a specific goal in mind. We can scope the project as makes sense, to complement the existing team and help them meet the goals of the initiative.
What Jobs are Frameplay clients trying to get Done, and how do I help them along the way?
I’ve had a few conversations over the past month or so that’ve left me frustrated, but they’ve been helpful for me to think through my own views for myself and my company.
1. Target: Companies that are trying to achieve growth.
Honestly, it seems like a cop-out to say that companies are trying to achieve growth. What company isn’t trying to grow? So that description of situation/context in itself is pretty useless.
Things get more clear as we start digging into what success looks like.
A few years ago I was working on a strategy project with a team, and was fascinated to see how different people wanted to achieve success. The Director of Channel Sales wanted to have more products to sell, and the Product and Marketing team wanted to develop a more robust Channel program. The ultimate Job was the same: to increase revenue. But they each had different ideas of how to do it (and each saw that the other party held the keys to the future).
There are three levers to manipulate in innovation: the customer, the product and the business model. Often, a company comes to the table preferring to move some levers and not others.
I’ve worked with one company that had a product on an aging tech stack, and they were open to introducing a new product to market. In another case, the company was open to changes to their business model and customer base they were targeting, but they were limited in how much technical development work they could do.
Understanding this helps me ensure the research and recommendations I offer are aligned with what the client can hope to execute on.
Which brings me to..
2. My Clients aren’t trying to buy Research
They’re trying to increase growth by offering products their target customers will buy.
Research is one (highly advised) step in that process. But it’s a solution, and we all know that we shouldn’t get too enamored with our particular solution.
I’ve seen a few comments lately about this being a sticking point with Jobs to be Done. The customer has a high level Job to be Done, and you only handle part of the process. Can you really claim you help them get it Done?
My answer is, obviously, yes. Research helps companies understand what their customers value, so they can focus their development efforts on those things. Does it help them do the actual implementation?
But a company could hire Research if they believe it will help them create or market products their target customers will buy better than not hiring Research.
What is ‘better’? I just finished a book on Service Innovation, and it called out three types of outcomes to consider. These are: input outcomes, process outcomes, and output outcomes. This comes down to speed, reduced variability of results, and optimized quality of results.
I can’t predict whether a given company will value the speed of no Research over the optimized quality of Research, but it’s likely that there is a segment of companies that does.
So, they’re not a target customer for Frameplay :-)
I recognize that Research can help customers design products their target customers will buy, but there’s more to the overall Job than that.
So while I can offer research services, I don’t want to waste my time nor my customers money doing research that’ll sit on a shelf.
Imagine the Job “Offer products customers want to buy” were to break down to four steps:
The overall business results don’t actually come until the end of the process, so it’s immature to focus on the success of one of the steps.
Which is frustrating, and also exactly what we see companies do ALL THE TIME. “We are the best ice-harvesting company around”. Until a better solution came along.
I don’t want to offer Research solutions, especially not research solutions that are tied to one specific methodology, and risk being replaced by a better way to get the overall Job Done.
I want to help with more of the process, which will offer more benefits to my clients and make Frameplay a harder solution to replace.
Expanding to help with more of the Job to be Done is sorta the story of my life.
As I think I mentioned, I started my career as a web developer.
Someone told me what to build.
I wondered “how does this create value for the customer?”
So I started digging into UX, Customer Discovery and New Product Innovation.
Sometimes projects got shut down. I wondered “how does this generate value for the business?”
So I got my MBA in Strategy and Entrepreneurship.
I know the root of innovation lies in understanding what customers are trying to get Done, but it also has to make sense for a company to help them do so. I’ve done Research, but I’ve also done Strategic Planning, Product Roadmapping and Development. My goal is not to be a master of a single technique and tie my success to delivering that one solution.
There will always be new approaches and new challenges. Markets will change. Technology will change. Customer expectations will change. Frameplay exists to help companies offer products their customers will buy.
Is that running customer interviews? Quantitative analysis? Marketing and positioning? Design sprints for rapid prototyping? Sure. Maybe not.
Clients will have different measures of success. Different capabilities, and different investments they’re willing to make. Some will be a great fit for Frameplay, and some will not.
Overall, this year has been a blast. I’ve learned a lot, and know I’ll make some different choices in the future.
But I’ll end this now by saying that if you have ever thought of going out on your own, do it. You have everything you need to be successful and happy. And if it’s not what you expected, you’ll be richer knowing that about yourself.
Life is too short to hide behind fear. There will always be a million reasons not to do something, but why choose to listen to those reasons? (I hope) you’ve just read 1996 words that have encouraged you to step outside what you’ve been doing this last year and live your best life.
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Andrea Hill is the principal consultant at Frameplay. Frameplay is an innovation consultancy that helps companies become more customer-focused and thrive in a rapidly changing world. Learn more at frameplay.co