One of the key responsibilities for Product Managers is to establish and maintain competitive advantage for their products in the marketplace. Good intelligence about the industry and the competition give Product Managers and the teams they work with the edge and expertise to strategize and act with purpose and clarity. The more Product Managers know about their industry and the competition, the greater credibility they have as leaders.
Kaizen is a Japanese term typically translated to continuous improvement that covers the processes and theory for ongoing improvements. The theory (and term) was introduced to the West by Masaaki Imai in his legendary book, Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success. Imai outlined the following principles of kaizen:
Good processes bring good results
Go see for yourself to grasp the current situation
Speak with data, manage by facts
Take action to contain and correct root causes of problems
Guerrilla warfare is typically performed by a small force battling a larger, more highly equipped enemy. Guerrilla forces are typically comprised of small units that employ continuous raids, ambushes, and attacks on opponent’s weaknesses to put ongoing pressure on the larger force (most often psychological pressure to wear-down morale). In addition, the supports of local populations help sustain the smaller force and provide safety. Several examples of a guerrilla force succeeding against a much larger opponent are the Chinese Civil War, the Vietcong against the French and U.S., Castro’s Cuban revolution, the Sandista revolution, and jihadists fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. Business leaders should learn and adapt guerilla tactics to their sales and marketing efforts to keep competitor off-balanced and customers continually excited about new, surprise offerings.
When problems arise there are great tools to attack them, specifically root-cause analysis and DMAIC. There are also excellent tools to stimulate creativity to develop new products, improve current products, and build innovative solutions. An excellent technique to help solve tough problems is Reverse Brainstorming.
Espionage has long been used in military tactics. Businesses have also employed espionage to steal competitive secrets. More recently espionage is not used often due to the strict and severe penalties organizations and individuals will receive. A classic example of modern espionage that changed the face of the modern motorcycle industry is told in an excellent book by Mat Oxley called Stealing Speed.
In 2016 Wired magazine had several excellent articles on the future of transportation. The move towards electric vehicles (EV), automation, and the sharing economy is extremely interesting to watch as the major automakers figure out how to keep selling millions of cars when most millennials don’t care about owning one. And as we examine the overall automobile transportation sector it is filled with waste (our Lean armies should be having a field day with all the opportunities).
The blind acceptance of fake news and false facts in general, has demonstrated the failure of critical thinking in the United States (the U.S. is not alone). Human beings have always been suckers for flashy and exciting people; and in politics this is nothing new. However, the current political landscape shines a bright light on how individuals and the media have accepted, at face value, any comment or statement tossed out by either party.
The rise of new technologies is changing traditional industries. As new trends gain momentum – VR, IoT, automation, robotics – traditional businesses are applying new technology to traditionally un-sexy products. From medium-sized manufacturing firms in Germany to family-owned private manufacturers in the Midwest, small to medium sized companies are out-innovating larger incumbents. Industry 4.0 is gaining steam and being adopted by the least-likely industries, far away from Silicon Valley. Industries from tractors, hand-tools, and front-end loaders are adopting new technologies to meet the needs of changing customers.
The business world is a chaotic and turbulent place. The pace of innovation is expanding. New technologies are changing the face of traditional industries and introducing new, disruptive competitors. The media continually focuses on the benefits of automation, virtual reality (VR), and other new and exciting ways business will change in the near future. What are missing are the consequences of new technologies and innovation. Leaders need to understand short and long-term disruptions to current business practices.