I listen to an array of podcasts and have recently picked up the Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders podcast (podcast feed) from Standford. The one that has engaged my interest today is from Geoffrey Moore (the Crossing the Chasm author) in which he talks about his recent work (and book?), Reach Your Escape Velocity.
Moore mentioned a common problem of companies: they ask project teams to focus on more than one thing at a time, and that this kills the team's capability to do anything well. "Oh, ho!" I thought. "This is going to be interesting." I have talked about the difficulties of multitasking many times as it applies to individual workers and the deleterious affect on projects. But he seemed to be suggesting something else - something related to multitasking at the project level.
At about the halfway point in the podcast, Moore took this discussion into the realm of product management and the three responsibilities he sees that product managers have: differentiation in the marketplace, neutralization of competitive threats, and optimization of operations. These responsibilities are all important and they all play off of one another to help bring value to the company. The big issue is here: each of these drivers requires a very different mindset. Optimizing when you are trying to differentiate will create major problems. And differentiating when you are focused on neutralizing will probably create overkill. You get the picture: each project has to be focused on one goal. And I like the comment that I think I heard at the outset: don't put the same teams to be on projects that will divide their energies.
Moore talked about "waste" in this section quite a lot. Divided energies create waste. And this waste is the bane of many organizations. I got the sense that he sees this a lot as he advises other companies, and it drives him crazy. But then people within organizations see the waste too, but they often feel powerless to do anything about it. I wonder if this way of thinking can be a helpful path to creating real value for the organization. Don't divide your focus, whether you are an individual contributor being pulled into multitasking, or you are a team and being pulled to address conflicting needs in the same way.
This also makes me consider the work I have done in "continuous improvement" and Theory of Constraints. The focus tends to be more operational, but the goal is always around increasing value for the organization: more sales, more capacity (to meet sales), etc. With Moore's discussion, I was wondering how there could be three drivers - I usually think of there being only one. But I can justify this to myself by thinking of the overall goal and what are the necessary conditions for reaching that goal. In this case, the goal is value for the organization and the necessary conditions are differentiation, neutralization, and optimization. None of these necessary elements can damage the other in their support of the overall goal. And I think this is where organizations get stuck: they just focus on one of the necessary conditions for success, ignoring the others or assuming someone else is paying attention.
Moore's presentation style is very high energy. He's clearly excited about what he is discussing, and he brings in a lot of ideas related to the topic. It makes you pay attention, and his excitement made me smile as I listened to him.
[Photo: "Stay Focus" by Leland Francisco]