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Monthly Archives: July 2015

Book review: “The Lean Enterprise”

Most of the product people or businesses that I speak to all seem to want one thing: to be ‘lean’. They all nod when you talk about wasting resources on making products that no wants to buy. They’ve picked up on the approach adopted by many successful startups who have got the capacity to learn and adapt rapidly to what customers want.

However, large corporations have struggled to adopt ‘lean’ practices and to create a culture in which the focus is on “continuous learning”. Are big corporates geared towards releasing products in small iterations and accepting failure in the process? Trevor Owens and Obie Hernandez have published The Lean Enterprise, which is about large corporations adopting a lean startup mindset and which provides practical tools on how to best do so.

Why The Lean Enterprise? What is it?

“Why do large companies need to adopt a lean attitude to product development?” is the first question that the “The Lean Enterprise” raises.  Here are some common characteristics of large companies :

  • Need to improve speed to market
  • Losing against faster, more nimble competitors
  • No room for innovation or quick response to market or consumer changes
  • A culture of “decisions take ages” or, worse, “things don’t get done around here”

I guess the main message which underpins “The Lean Enterprise” is that big businesses need to adopt “lean” practices which have been adopted by lots of (successful) startups.

“Lean Startups” (a term coined by Eric Ries in the eponymous book) are geared towards determining “product/market fit” in the quickest and most efficient way possible. “The Lean Enterprise” is all about big businesses becoming more like lean startups.

But can large companies really become leaner?

The main premise of “The Lean Enterprise” is that large enterprise can:

  • Create or acquire a company which is like a large company’s ‘lean playground’
  • Act like a “lean startup” by applying lean startup practices

I agree with Owens and Hernandez’ point that large corporations at their core are not geared towards fast pace innovation. To overcome this, the book suggests creating an “Innovation Colony” via internal incubation, acquisition or investment:

“An innovation colony is an outpost where entrepreneurially minded employees and talented marketers, engineers, and designers from outside the enterprise can build new products and services, bring them to market and, share in the fruits of their success.”

However, the idea of an “Innovation Colony” seems to be closely modeled to “Skunkworks”, which dates back to the Fifties. The Skunkworks concept has had varying degrees of success. Even if large businesses succeed in creating an autonomous unit, I wonder if the mindset and autonomy is really there for these skunkworks to launch great innovative products.

How do you inject a lean mindset of experimentation and ‘failing fast’ into organisations that have a long lasting legacy of a slow speed to market or a well ingrained culture of bureaucracy. The Lean Enterprise provides a lot of detail around lean concepts such as “product / market validation” and “innovation thesis”, but I wish it could have elaborated more on the mindset required to be be truly lean and autonomous.

I wonder if it might not be easier to create a lean mindset in-house and across the organisation, rather than going down the route of creating a skunkworks unit where the large company issues might still resurface. I would love to know more about how to best tackle some of the aforementioned problems ‘at source’ and at scale.

How do you transform a large company with an ‘oil tanker mindset’ into a nimble speed boat? What does it take to get people to buy into such a transformation? I expected The Lean Entrepreneur to focus more on such questions, as I am just not convinced that creating an Innovation Colony is the best way to making large companies more lean. Having listened recently to a talk by Shah Shelbe in which he spoke about introducing an entrepreneurial mindset into large corporates such as Boeing, I’m curious to find out more about best ways to transform cultures and mentalities of large companies, making them more nimble and entrepreneurial.

https://i1.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41dh-HPHrlL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

 
 

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App review: Amazon Seller App

How do the likes of eBay, Amazon Handcraft, Notonthehighstreet, Rakuten and Etsy go about supporting the small businesses who sell products through their platforms? What are some of the typical data and customer insights that these sellers benefit from and why? Amazon recently launched its Seller App aiming to “help grow and manage your selling business on Amazon.” I had a quick look at the Amazon Seller App and these are my initial thoughts:

  1. How did the app come to my attention? – Since I’ve started working on online marketplaces I tend to keep an eye out for new technology and tools available to the sellers on these marketplaces.
  2. My quick summary of the app (before using it) – I expect a mobile app, which helps sellers to keep a close eye on their sales figures and manage their orders.
  3. How does the app explain itself in the first minute? – The first screen of the app asks me to select my marketplace (see Fig. 1 below). It doesn’t provide any further context but I presume that if you’re an active seller on Amazon you might not need any further info.
  4. Getting started, what’s the process like? – I’m not a seller on Amazon, but looking at some of the screenshots and the data provided, I can imagine that sellers will find it relatively easy to use the app (see Fig. 2 and 3 below). What I’m curious about though is the data syncing between devices, making sure your sales data is as ‘real-time’ as possible. I also couldn’t get a sense of whether (and how well) the Seller App integrates with Amazon’s Mobile Credit Card Reader.
  5. How does the app compare to similar apps?  The Amazon Seller App feels very similar to the Sell on Etsy app and SellerMobile. For example, the Etsy app enables sellers to manage their open orders and revisit completed ones on the go (see Fig. 4 below). The Etsy app also offers sellers the opportunity to check their Etsy shop and product views, but I’m not sure whether this analytics feature is included in Amazon’s Seller App.
  6. Did the app deliver on my expectations?  Yes, based on what I could tell from the screenshots and app description. The app looks the provide the key stats and insights that marketplace sellers tend to be interested in. What I could not tell from the screenshots is how the app facilitates sellers who sell on multiple marketplaces, for example in the UK and the US. I know this is a reality for lots of small businesses and it would be good to find out how the user interface of the Amazon Seller App accommodates for this use case.

Main learning point: The Amazon Seller App looks fit for purpose, providing sellers with key sales information that’s visual and easy to manage on the go. Analytics and multiple marketplaces are two areas where I’m not sure how (well) they are covered by this app. However, if you sell products through Amazon and want to keep a close eye on your orders and sales, then this app should give you the key information to help you manage your activities on Amazon’s marketplace.

Fig. 1 – Screenshot of opening screen on Amazon Seller App (iOS)

IMG_2737

 

Fig. 2 – Screenshots of Amazon Seller App (iOS) – Taken from: http://www.allmediatalks.com/amazon-in-launches-its-seller-app-in-india-amazon-online-selling/

Amazon Marketplace

Fig. 3 – Screenshot order detail view on Amazon Seller App (iOS) – Taken from: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/amazon-seller/id794141485

Amazon product detail

 

Fig. 4 – Screenshot of the ‘Sell on Etsy’ App – Taken from: https://blog.etsy.com/news/2014/introducing-new-mobile-app-just-for-sellers/

Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 15.22.33

 

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://tamebay.com/2015/06/amazon-marketplaces-eu-release-seller-app.html
  2. http://techcrunch.com/2014/03/06/amazon-debuts-an-official-mobile-app-for-amazon-sellers/
  3. http://www.retailwire.com/discussion/18003/its-good-to-be-an-amazon-marketplace-seller
  4. http://www.fiercewireless.com/europe/story/mobile-app-helps-amazon-sellers-shift-2b-items-2014/2015-01-05
  5. http://www.allmediatalks.com/amazon-in-launches-its-seller-app-in-india-amazon-online-selling/
  6. http://www.wired.com/2014/08/amazon-mobile-credit-card-reader/
  7. http://techcrunch.com/2014/10/23/etsy-moves-further-into-the-offline-world-with-launch-of-card-reader-for-in-person-payments/
  8. https://blog.etsy.com/news/2014/introducing-new-mobile-app-just-for-sellers/
 

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Book review: “The Checklist Manifesto”

Before I tell you more about “The Checklist Manifesto” written by Atuwal Gawande, a US-based surgeon, I feel I need to make a confession: I LOVE check and to do lists. The Checklist Manifesto therefore felt like the right book for me to read since it explains the role and value of checklists. In this book, Gawande makes it clear that checklists potentially to all kinds of professions, whether you’re a surgeon or a greengrocer. These are the main things that I leaned from reading The Checklist Manifesto:

  1. Why checklists? – As individuals, the volume and complexity of the know-how that we carry around in our heads or (personal) systems is increasingly becoming unmanageable. Gawande points out that it’s becoming very hard for individuals to deliver the benefits of their know-how correctly. We therefore need a strategy for overcoming (human) failure. One the one hand this strategy needs to build on people’s experience and take advantage of their knowledge. On the other hand, however, this strategy needs to take into account human inadequacies. Checklists act as a very useful as part of this strategy.
  2. What makes a good checklist? – Gawande stresses that the checklist can’t be lengthy. A rule of thumb that some people use is to have between 5 to 9 items on a checklist in order to keep things manageable. The book contain some good real-life examples of how people go about starting their checklists. For example, looking at lessons learned from previous projects or the errors known to occur at any point.
  3. How to use a checklist – I believe that the key thing to bear in mind when using checklists is that they aren’t supposed to tell you what to do. As the book explains, a checklist isn’t a magic formula. Instead, having a checklist helps you at every step of the way, making sure you’ve got all the crucial info or data required at each step. Also, a checklist is a critical communication tool, as it outlines who you need to talk to (and why, what about) at each step of the way. Gawande also highlights the value of the ‘discipline’ that comes with having a checklist, the routine that’s involved in having a checklist. I’d add to this that a checklist can be a great way of identifying and mitigating risk upfront.

Main learning point: It may sound obvious to some, but having a checklist helps to get more control over projects or processes as well as learn from past mistakes or learnings. “The Checklist Manifesto” by Atuwal Gawanda provides a good insight into how checklists can be used effectively, using a wide palette of real-life examples to illustrate the value of having a solid checklist in place and using it continuously.

 

Checklist Manifesto

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2015 in Agile, Product Management

 

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