Why Project Frameworks Succeed

2013-11-21 05_00_47-Webcast_ How To Prepare For The AIPMM Certified Product Marketing M...

AIPMM Product Lifecycle Framework

In the last year or so, my area became leaders new product development.  In a customer-focused company this is essential.   This led one of my collogues to bring in the AIPMM product lifecycle framework to guide our work.  

Like most frameworks, it is an application of the basic principals of the systems development life cycle (SDLC,) which encapsulates most project management techniques.  This got me thinking how these frameworks succeed or fail within organizations. 

Generally, it is not the framework that fails.  The AIPMM model works like most others following the this pattern:

Plan > Design > Build > Operate/Refine/Retire

In business, there are is actually three outside forces that have a greater effect on project outcomes.  People using any framework need to understand them in order to succeed.

Well-defined strategy

A strategy does two important things for frameworks:

  • It defines what ideas employees will research at the beginning of a project.  Without a strategy ideas and the project scope are impossible to vet accurately.  This leads to indecision and project bloat. 
  • It allows people to make decisions between phases (at tollgates.)  Without a strategy, decisions are made based on who pitched the idea.  Bad projects result because there is no vetting process. 

Empowered decision makers

The product lifecycle framework has gates between phases to let workers and stakeholders gauge the viability of a project.  During these checkpoints, decision makers need the power to kill the project.  Why should they have this ability?

Usually, management personnel pitch projects they are have a interested in.  Then hand it off to subordinates to execute.  Because it is hard to say no to the boss, employees tend to finish projects once they receive orders.  Unless management trusts their judgment (the definition of empowerment) bad projects are hard to stop.  I have seen too many unnecessary projects built because management gave employees the responsibility to build, but not the authority to direct its design or kill the project.

Adherence to the framework

This might sound like a no brainer, but often groups start off with good intentions on using a framework and veer off after a few months.  It is easy to do because frameworks impose constraints and may slow implementations.  This tends to be an anathema to executives who want it built now.  The project lead has an important job to educate others on why they should follow the framework.  In the end the project is likelier to succeed and meet the needs of the organization. 

Remember the adage:  One is better than none.  Even if they are a pain, always work within some sort of framework to help guide and improve decision making.  If the one chosen doesn’t work out, there are plenty of other to choose from.

Steam Box: How Customer Intimacy Works with Customer Segmentation

2013-11-19 18_55_26-Steam ControllerEven with the recent release of the PS4 and Xbox One, I am waiting for the consumer-oriented console, Valve’s Steam Box.  It is worth the wait, not simply because I am a PC gamer, but for the fact that is a lesson in excellent market segmentation. 

What is Steam?

For those not computer gamers, Valve has platform called Steam, which allows users to purchase games electronically and have them downloaded to the desktop.  Using tried and true market disruption, it is likely the primary reason brick and mortar companies stopped selling boxed PC games. 

Now they are on the cusp of releasing a TV based console to their 50 million+ user base.  This is built on a platform called Big Picture, which allows users to hook up their computer to a TV and play games.

A cold reception

The overall reporting has been rather negative.  The PC gaming community mainly complains that it is already possible to hook up a computer to a TV.  The console community issues are about specs.  Using a good, better, best system, the are likely to constantly change meaning users will need to upgrade every year to stay current*.  And they are both right.  However, neither are the targeted consumer.

Customers intimacy counts

2013-11-19 18_42_45-Untitled 1 - LibreOffice Draw

Valve seems to have segmented their client base in such a way to discover a user group that has these attributes:

  1. Consume entertainment (games, music, and video) on alternate devices or in unique ways
  2. Do not want to tinker with technology, they just want it to work**
  3. Have discretionary income

If you have heard of this type of consumer before, it is likely you’re using an Apple device to read this post.  What Valve gambles on is this customer group would like to play computer games (and purchased media) on their TV without hassle. 

To make this easier, they have used a customer centric approach.

  1. Create a plug and play system, much like plugging in DVD player to the TV
  2. Offer familiar features lifted from the Steam application
  3. Build a great user experience by offering an easy way to find and play media and games

Gauging success

Unlike Sony’s PS4 or Microsoft’s Xbox One, which have to sell at least 10 million consoles in the next year to remain viable, Valve’s third party hardware designers, such as Asus do not need to sell in large quantities for success.  Convincing just 2% of their user base, or about a million or so users, succeed in building a billion dollar eco system.

This approach is not unlike AppleTV.  While not a major product, it fits a niche that helps the fruity company retain its most loyal (and profitable) customer segments inside iTunes. 

To help adoption, Value has worked several things to help customers:

  1. Demanded a high-level of quality control around the user experience. Valve is controls the software and input device (controller) quality to giving to Steam box a standard user interface (UI) paradigm.   This is much like other appliance based goods such as the iPhone and Microsoft Surface.
  2. Access to a hundreds of games day one, and when including their streaming service, access to all 2,000+ games the Steam library today.
  3. Open platform (Linux) encourages programmers to find new uses for the system.  Groups like XMBC are likely to have an app that gives users access to their previously purchased media.  Valve already stated they are working with media providers so features like Netflix, and Spotify should be available day one.  There might even be room for competition, such as the indie gaming platform Desura.
  4. The open nature allows users to pair most any peripheral.  Those who rather play games or surf the web keyboard and mouse will be able to do so.

The best part of this effort might be for those who don’t use the product.  If popular, gaming companies will design their games around controllers and might be more inclined to port their games to Steam, enriching the ecosystem for all users. 


* Consoles user complain about the upgrade treadmill, however this is not a problem.  The reference designs are better than the new consoles.  Usually, games companies benchmark their offerings to these platforms.  In addition, a 5 year old mid-range computer plays every game today and likely for the next 5 years given the software plateau we have experienced lately. 

** I explain that the likely user base is going to be non-tinkerers.  Given that it is an open platform based on Linux, it is likely to attract a hacker following.  However, it is unlikely they will buy a finished console.  Instead, they are likely to install Steam OS on a custom machine much like PC builders do today.

JPMorgan Realizes Too Late Brand Reputation Important on Social Media

If there is one thing that you don’t want to do in social media when you have a poorly regarded brand name is ask people to send questions for a online event.

JPMorgan found this out the hard way yesterday with their #ASKJPM.

2013-11-14 07_20_14-Relentless Twitter Mockery Forces JPM To Kill #AskJPM Q&A Session _ Zero Hedge

Originally, it was suppose to be an answer session for one of the their Board members and soon be leader Jimmy Lee.  Instead, it was it became a litany of complaints on the bank recent illegal dealings and its lack of compassion for those going through foreclosure and loan modification processes.

The Inevitable Twitter vs Facebook IPO Post

Source: TwitterWith a big bang, Twitter is now a public company.  It is up 73% to about $45/share.  Now pundits, myself included, are comparing it to the other large social media IPO of recent memory, Facebook.  Most know that Facebook’s IPO was bad.  Glitches, insider sales and hype drove the stock price lower through May 2012.

My hunch that Twitter would be big.  Not because of any technical reason, or the promise that it will be profitable in the near-term, but a simple fact: people like things they use.

Just like has Apple its fanbois and Twitter has a strong following on Wall Street’s trading community because it is a rich source of breaking news.  This means most people who have the ability to buy stock were already familiar with how it works.  Many companies even build tweets into their trading algorithms, which causes panic from time-to-time.  Since it is a service they like, it is easier to bid up rather than short the stock.  Why hate on something needed for your job?

This is unlike Facebook.  Its model is built around local networks that spread gossip, fads and local news.  While important to individuals, much of what is posted cannot be used for financial gain.  It is unlikely that many people in finance even use Facebook regularly. 

I think Facebook’s model is more profitable than what Twitter built mid-term.  It is difficult to see great profit as much of what Twitter relies on is advertising.  Outside Asian languages that use hanzi, It is hard to advertise in 140 characters.  Maybe picture and Vine will help, though I am skeptical.

PS4, The Return of Sony’s Deaf Ears

PS4 Front
Attribution: Sony

Sony is an odd corporation in that I hold two positions about the company.  I like their hardware division.  It puts out good and sometime even innovative products.  However, their media division is often consumer hostile and its management control freaks.  Looking through its history there are a long line of things preventing consumers from using their products in unapproved ways.

Enter the PS4. It was nice to see Sony releasing an FAQ of its capabilities prior to launch.  So I read it hoping it would be a good candidate for a media center.  I like playing music and podcasts and only dabble in console gaming.  The previous incarnation, the PS3, is the only media player I have used without a horrendous U.I.  Since mine broke last year, I thought I’d wait until the next gen system came out and upgrade my listening experience. 

Much to my surprise:

2013-11-06 05_23_00-PS4_ The Ultimate FAQ – North America – PlayStation.Blog

2013-11-06 05_23_24-PS4_ The Ultimate FAQ – North America – PlayStation.Blog

Ever since the PS One, Sony’s game systems as well as DVD and Blu-ray players could play CDs.  I cannot think of any consumer electronics with a disk drive not being able to play one (as long as the CD fit.)  Obviously the hardware is there, they don’t want to enable it.

Not being ale to play MP3s is also weird choice given the habits of consumers over the last half decade.  The reason these music files are popular is the ability to play them on any device.  Even I have moved digital, forgoing disks in favor of convenience.

My conclusion is the media division got involved with hardware design.  This is likely because consumers would have used it to consume pirated material (it also cannot play video files) and force users to pay for their approved Music Unlimited service or apps like Pandora.  In this way they want to control the user experience like Apple, Amazon or to a lessor extent, Microsoft.   Too bad they are going about it in the wrong way.

There is a subtle difference in Sony’s philosophy.  It crosses the line into consumer hostile territory, which it has times treaded in the past.  Limiting usage choice simply because people might not use your services and not for technical reasons is anti-consumer.  It artificially limits the system to hard core gamers, a bad move given the rise of competition from other devices, namely phones.

Unfortunately, Sony does not have the market clout to do this.  It doesn’t have the brand cache of Apple to micromanage their ecosystem, the breadth of content Amazon provides, or the polish the Microsoft brings to its software (most Sony apps are poorly made.)

I wanted to like the PS4 and hoped it would be the media center of the future.  While Microsoft’s gaming systems offer a good music experience, but I don’t want to pay a yearly subscription fee to Xbox Gold to be shown ads. I guess I will wait for the SteamBox unless the Ouya improves it user experience.

Defining Strategy

Over the past six months, I have been in the process of refining how I work from a strategic viewpoint.  What brought this to the forefront of my thinking are the great changes that managements wants for the company.  I generally use this line of thinking to figure out what the projects I work with are trying to accomplish.  In addition, I use it to get a handle on how competitors go to market and to see if they are actually competitors or just in the same field.

The process

The strategic process should dictate everything about corporation’s business work. It is a simple cost benefit process weighed against expectations of philosophical beliefs. Without one, a company governs based on the whims of the strongest executive personalities or worse, their competitors.

The main benefits are twofold. Firstly, it allows greater insight into the business. The company can apply their financials to the value chain and note what is working. Secondly, it forces each person to be accountable for the success of the company. Additionally, it enhances empowerment as employees know why the come to work each day.

Chain of Accountability

Strategy Diagram

Centralized companies should work from a unified strategy down to the tactic level, while flat and decentralized companies might need to have a handful of strategies rolled up into a overarching philosophy.

Level explanations in the chain of accountability


A company’s view of the world and how it fits within it. There should be only one philosophy per company as it the lens in which you view the world. Once set, this view should not change often as it leads to confusion. Therefore, it is vital to make it broad enough to weather changes in the marketplace.

Pitfall #1: Not communicating the philosophy. Leaders can create a great philosophy then marshal the resources needed to execute it. Without constant communication, employees default to working within the system because the unifying message is unclear. This is the Iron Law of Bureaucracy.

Questions at this level:

  • What do well? How are we different from our competitors?
  • What do we want to do well in the future?
  • Where can we grow?
  • Does everyone understand what we want to accomplish?


This is the physical manifestation of the philosophy. It is the lens used to evaluate tactics and gauge success. While it is possible to have multiple strategies, a company needs to track benefits gained and effort expended separately. Do not pool resources between strategies because it will lead to organizational conflict.

A strategy needs two things to be successful:

  1. It needs to be actionable.
  2. It needs to be attainable given the time horizons, the resources (people) available and accessible capital. This is the Iron Triangle.

Pitfall #2: Mistaking a philosophy for a strategy. Take the philosophy; grow households. It sounds good on paper until someone wants to act. How does the company want to grow households? Maybe lower prices or expand product line or entering new locations? A strategy needs to actionable.

Pitfall #3: Creating a strategy without resources. Until a strategy has resources, it is a dream. A strategy needs resources in order to work.

Questions at this level:

  • What are we trying to accomplish?
  • What does success look like and how do we apply it to our goals?
  • How long is this going to take?
  • What resources do we need to accomplish the goal?
  • What will we give up to succeed? Highly important = organizational change


Positive goal

At a high-level, it is what the strategy hopes to accomplish. Goals are the quantifiable piece of a strategy.

Pitfall #4: Cost center thinking. Without a positive goal, groups seem like cost centers to be minimized. This often happens in service and IT areas. It is important that everything be subject to both the positive and negative goals.

There are no questions at this level since strategy work addresses any questions.


Negative goal

What the company is willing to surrender to reach the positive goal. This goal is very important as it allows the company to know its limitations.

Pitfall #5: No negative goal. Without a negative goal, there is no expense management and ability to stay within the strategy’s purview. This often leads to bloat (scope creep.) It also makes it impossible to figure out what tactics are successful.

Again, there are no questions at this level.


Metric goal

Amount of benefit you gain per effort spent. It is the lens to evaluate ideas and gauge the success of both tactics and overall strategy. For tactics to be effective, you need some way to pit them against one another. Not all programs will necessarily have same metrics, but all need an objective metric based on the strategy goals.

Pitfall #6: Vanity metrics. These are many metrics not tied to a strategy. While some may have valid micro or diagnostic uses, they should not be confused those that make or break a strategy. Vanity metrics are easy to spot, think Facebook Likes, since they do not have negative goals.



Execution of the strategy. Every tactic, however mundane, needs a direct line to the overall philosophy through its metrics and strategy.

Pitfall #7: A tactic with no strategy. These tactics are easy to spot because they do not have a Metric Goal. Without this tie, there is no accountability, no ability to empower people to work toward strategy, and employees will not feel engaged.

Questions at this level:

  • What do we want to do?
  • When we rank various tactics, which ones bubble to the top based on our strategy metrics and ability to execute?
  • Do we want to continue, expand, or terminate this tactic based on the results?

Remember: Strategy = F(x){tactic #1 metrics, tactic #2 metrics, tactic #X metrics} – All corporate efforts need to be included in the strategy.


Example: Putting it all together

Say a CEO of an offline luxury futon-company wants to go online in order to better service clients. To be worth their while, they need to ramp up sales in this channel too. Because it is hard to find funding for this venture, the company shifts resources internally to build out its web presence.


Since our customers are shopping online more, we want to capture these sales while improving our customer service to bring in more repeat buyers. This benefits the company because it is cheaper to sell online and we will be able to learn more about our customer’s preferences.


Over the next four years, we want 1 in 5 new clients to come from the online channel. These clients should have client satisfaction scores similar to our offline clients. To do this, we will move $1 million a year and utilize 10 FTEs from our offline efforts to succeed.



  • 20% sales (20,000 a year in Year 4)
  • 80% client satisfaction score for these clients


  • $4 million spent
  • 40 FTE equivalent (100,000 person hours @ $50/hr.)
  • Implicit: spend less on the offline sales channel


  1. $100 or less online cost per sale in Year 4
  2. 5% profit margin based on COGS in Year 4
  3. 80%+ client satisfaction score


  • Year 1-2: Online system improvements (metric 3)
  • Year 1: Test marketing messages (1 and 2)
  • Year 2: Campaign and advertising roll out (1 and 2)
  • Year 2: Additional online customer support (3)
  • Year 3: Increase product availability (All)
  • Year 3-4: Mobile app (3)

Notice how each step relates to the one above and below it. This is by design to and allows accountability from management level to program directors to the lowest employee. With this hierarchy in place, the company can begin to assign bonuses for meeting the goals or change tactics based on well-defined strategic criteria.

Change is inevitable and a good strategy will have the flexibility to meet this need. Maybe this company does not need to create a robust mobile app since the web site is mobile enabled. They then can shift resources to marketing. Conversely, if satisfaction is high but sales low, the company could shift its efforts from online customer support functions to increasing product availability or advertising.