How Should GM Innovate? Management first, products second

As we all know, General Motors is in trouble. Along with other industry leaders, GM has been widely castigated for its leadership failures, and above all its failure to innovate. As a result, CEO Rick Waggoner has been busy pleading Congress for bailout money.

Yet despite all the public castigations of failed banks and failing automakers, few of us have suggested solutions to their innovation problems. And when ideas have surfaced, they have often been misguided -- focusing too singly on what I think of as product innovations (e.g., building next-gen hybrids like the Toyota Prius; selling ultra-compact, ultra-affordable cars like the Tata Nano; etc.). These are certainly good next-gen product ideas, and I hope that GM is considering them. But in reality, I'd bet that GM has already considered these ideas -- and either dismissed them or failed to implement them successfully. My wager, therefore, is that GM doesn't fail at innovation; it fails at innovation management. This distinction is critical. In fact, it underscores the core themes of my innovation management research at Forrester.

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The end of reposiphilia?

One sure sign that Web 2.0 is a genuinely new epoch in the tech industry: the haymaker punch it threw at a repository-centric view of application architectures, effectively knocking it out of the ring. For those who aren't familiar with what I'm talking about, I'll give a little bit of history for the young 'uns out there.

Forward into the past
Let's hop in a time machine, go back 10 years, and eavesdrop on conversations in development teams building multi-tier applications. Chances are you'll hear no small number of words about the repository. For example, suppose the project was integrating two middleware applications, such as content management systems and ERP applications. In many development teams, you'd get funny looks if you didn't advocate some merger of the two repositories as the solution to the challenge. Integration at the middle tier sounded, to many ears, like trying to pull a fast one, substituting a hack for "real" integration.

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Agile and the bottom line, revisited

A big thanks to the folks at Rally Software for the opportunity to co-present, with Rally CTO Ryan Martens, today. Check the Agile Commons web site later for the archived presentation, if you missed it.

And a big thanks to the attendees, especially for the many excellent questions (my favorite measure of whether or not a presentation went well).

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Upcoming research for December/January

Just in case you're curious, in the editing pipeline right now are the following documents from Yours Truly:

  • The technology industry's opportunities in the expanding alternative energy market.
  • The ROI of better requirements, including both new PM resources and new PM tools.
  • A tool for measuring your agility, at a company level, in responding to market threats and opportunities.
  • The long-delayed, but still alive, "future of CRM" piece.

And a whole bunch of other things, including a lot of Agile-related documents, in the works.

Ceremonies of investment

The Cranky Product Manager has started a poll about the value of product management certifications. Do you think that a certificate from some reputable organization like Pragmatic Marketing, AIPMM, or PDMA magnifies your career possibilities, or makes your daily job easier? Or do people treat them like honorary degrees from Harvard?

Earlier this year, PM certification provoked some interesting dialogue on this blog. Other product management blogs also regularly take notice when this topic reappears, or start the conversation rolling on their own.

Why does certification set the PM bloggers a-jumpin'? I don't think it's that product managers feel unappreciated, and therefore need to cling to whatever validation they can get, even if it's limited to a 21" by 27" frame. There's more going on here.

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The cheaper dashboard

Forrester colleague Oliver Young makes a convincing argument about widgets and mash-ups:


In a business context this style of data and content presentation can be tremendously valuable, despite the relative simplicity of the application. Think of this same graphic with sales data versus plan, feature burn down rate, or project milestones over time. This information is available today, of course, however the presentation of that data is not nearly as elegant or accessible. Business intelligence software — which this application most closely resembles — is not yet focused on these simple, business-friendly applications, and thus far no mashup or widget vendors have focused on this type of solution for the enterprise.

Exactly. The framework, such as enterprise portals, for presenting this kind of information has been around for a while. The real obstacle to the "dashboard dream" has been the cost of building the dashboard--either for each user, or, preferably, by each user.

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I submit to you that you are illogical!

While I was writing that last post about perception, I ran across this article about the widely-believed myths of PC power supplies. I, of course, as a Computer Professional, subscribe to none of these falsehoods. Unfortunately, that smug superiority prevents me from understanding why people who don't have the time or interest to gain an intimate understanding of their laptops might think these notions are perfectly reasonable.

As I've said before, the future of the technology industry will combine social science with computer science. Otherwise, all we'll have are people writing in computer journals, which average people do not read, what average people should know about their computers. Here's a thought: during shutdown, the farewell screen might tell you that there's no problem powering up and down on a regular basis.

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Two views of the downturn

Regardless of the topic du jour--whether or not to adopt Agile, whether or not to revamp product requirements, where the market development opportunities lie, how to use Web 2.0 as a vehicle for marketing--the downturn inspires two distinct reactions in technology companies:

  • We live in the best of all possible worlds. We may need to economize a bit, but we don't need to explore any significant changes to how we do business. All we need to do is wait, and not do anything stupid.
  • We could improve what we're doing. In fact, even if the downturn hadn't happened, we'd be in the middle of a discussion about how we might [fill in the blank] better.

Of course, there's always a strong argument behind the first position. Aside from Old Man Inertia, the other culprit here is the perceived cost and risk of change. The perception is important--moreso, in some organizations, than the measurable costs, benefits, and risks of change.

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Innovation Vendors List, v1

***Updated December 30, 2008: I've added basic category definitions for innovation software, innovation services, and innovation consulting. I consider it as a working first draft -- please comment on this post to let me know what you think.***

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First, I'd like to thank everyone who responded to my previous blog post -- either publicly or privately. The responses were mixed; some vendor strategists supported my forecasting hesitance; others strongly disagreed with my decision.

Regardless, I realize that my work is now cut out for me. Although I'm still not planning to launch a rigorous quant forecast earlier than mid-2009, your comments have moderated my "no forecast" views a bit. More to the point, it was unfair for me to castigate the vendor landscape for its "overlapping, vaguely marketed, and undifferentiated" technologies. This may be true, but the fault is partly mine.

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"The back button for the Internet"

Even if I didn't do research for a living, I'd be very excited about Zeotrope, a joint venture between the University of Washington and Adobe. Scrolling through Web content as it changes over time is cool. Scrolling simultaneously through multiple kinds of content--like, say, the consumer confidence index, unemployment, and gasoline prices--is incredibly cool.

It's not too early to remind ourselves of the risk of jumping to conclusions when using a tool like Zeotrope. The usual warnings about spurious relationships and logical fallacies still apply. Still, what a potentially useful tool, if used for good.