When #Lean isn’t enough – #novel

We all know about Lean. At least most of us do. We need to Lean our processes and organizations. We need to make them more efficient and less wasteful. But the problem is that Lean is only for incremental improvements. Given an existing process, how can we make it 5%, 10% more efficient? But the problem is that many opportunities for business aren’t just about incremental improvements in processes, we need to develop the new opportunities and products. Does Lean help with this? Absolutely not.

So what are we to do?

Novel Innovations

It is all about Innovation Games and Empathy Maps. With these tools and methods we can actually build customer engagement and try to develop Novel Innovations. With Novel Innovation we can discover new innovation that deliver new markets and services. No longer are we talking about 5%-10%. Now we are taking with total green-field opportunities that can offer 100%-200% growth. We are suddenly moved from a discussion of cost cutting to growth.

So how do we move from Lean to Novel? By changing our focus from internal to external. Instead of looking internally on how we can help to improve the internal working, lets look externally and see what the clients actually want and will pay for. No longer can we just look internally, incremental improvements are not enough.

If you aren’t looking at your customers. your competitors are.

I can’t stress this enough. Innovation is not an internal exercise. Many innovation frameworks look internally and discuss how to propose and gather innovation feedback internally. Without the involvement of the client and the building of client empathy, it is an unfocused effort that is not likely to succeed.


Read Innovation Games. Learn how to build Customer Engagement and Empathy.These methods will highlighted Novel approaches that will change your business and create the next generation of the business.


Why Customer #Empathy ?

Why should we bother with Customer Empathy? Many time we have seen the results. Either you deal with Customer Empathy or you deal with Customer Anger. It is much more efficient to deal with Customer Empathy when you define an offering than dealing with Customer Anger to fix the offering.

Sadly, most the time Information Technology initiatives are based in what we as Information Technology professionals think the customers want. At best, we have Information Technology empathy – we understand what Information Technology values.

Information Technology Empathy

So what happens when we have Information Technology Empathy? One might suggest that we can improve the cost side of the equation. Perhaps if we have Information Technology Empathy, we can reduce cost and become more efficient. Sadly, many times having Information Technology Empathy may not reduce costs. We may pursue Information Technology goals that may increase costs. And then the customers doubly suffer – we expend budget that makes their lives worse. 😦

Many times this happens with Package Implementations. Software Packages are chosen to reduce risk from the Information Technology point of view. (Information Technology Empathy) Frequently the new Software Package reduces the value delivered to customers. Very rarely do you hear about customers extolling the virtues of the new Software Package – at best you hope the Customers don’t lose functionality.

Customer Empathy

Only with Customer Empathy can we improve the revenue side of the equation. If we truly understand what the customer values, we can design new products and services that they are willing to pay more for. Strangely enough, Customer Empathy will also allow us to improve the cost side of the equation. By knowing what the customer values, we can also understand what costs the clients will accept and potentially which areas could be trimmed without affecting customer value.


Many times we see plans being put in place assuming we know what the customer values. There almost seems to be a hesitation to ask the customers what they want. In this fast-paced world with so many options, be warned. If you aren’t going to ask your customers what they want, someone else will.

The #1 competency of a great Project Manager #pmot

I was talking on Friday to Steve Rogalsky (@srogalsky) about my thoughts on the #1 competency of great Project Managers. As soon as I said that I corrected myself and said that it is never that simple. There is not just one thing. That was something that makes for a great Blog title and Blog post, but is not a true reflection of reality.

But since this is a Blog post, I’m hoping you will allow me a little leeway in the discussion. 🙂

Project Manager Competencies

So what is the #1 competency for a Project Manager?

Think of the best Project Manager you have ever worked with. What was the one thing you remember about him/her?

If you were going to describe him/her to someone else, what would you say they did really well?

Let me hazard a guess that it isn’t one of these statements…

  • Man, that guy really knew his way around MS Project
  • Man, she really knew how to create a detailed WBS
  • Man, that guy knows how to drive a team and instil a sense of urgency
  • Man, she really kept on top of the work and followed a good governance process. I mean her Change Requests rocked!
  • and so on…

My favourite Project Manager

My favourite Project Manager was not someone whom I liked or respected initially. I thought that he was weak on having a detailed plan and the change request process. (these were my pre-Agile days) I mean we were taking on extra scope and missing deadlines. Why was he not pushing the client and the team?

As I worked with him, I started to see the real skill he had.

  • He never used his authority
  • He built relationships with both the client and the team
  • He knew when it was time to push and when it was time to be patient with both the team and the client
  • He knew a great team took time to build trust and to gel
  • He was a facilitator first and foremost
  • He had an awesome sense of humour
  • He honestly wanted to know how you felt and what you thought

I don’t know for sure, but I think he would have had great Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence is defined as:

“Emotional Intelligence (EI) refers to the ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions.”  – about.com

Emotional Intelligence has four main competencies:

  1. Perceiving Emotions: The first step in understanding emotions is to accurately perceive them. In many cases, this might involve understanding nonverbal signals such as body language and facial expressions.
  2. Reasoning With Emotions: The next step involves using emotions to promote thinking and cognitive activity. Emotions help prioritize what we pay attention and react to; we respond emotionally to things that garner our attention.
  3. Understanding Emotions: The emotions that we perceive can carry a wide variety of meanings. If someone is expressing angry emotions, the observer must interpret the cause of their anger and what it might mean. For example, if your boss is acting angry, it might mean that he is dissatisfied with your work; or it could be because he got a speeding ticket on his way to work that morning or that he’s been fighting with his wife.
  4. Managing Emotions: The ability to manage emotions effectively is a key part of emotional intelligence. Regulating emotions, responding appropriately and responding to the emotions of others are all important aspect of emotional management.

(reproduced from  – about.com)


To me, Emotional Intelligence comes down to being able to having great empathy for others. For your team mates and clients.

Great Project Managers use this empathy to build relationships and read situations when the project is starting to go off the rails. They understand that it is all about the people and not the technology or process. They honestly care. Care about team mates, the clients, and the solution.

Two More competencies

I also believe that a good Project Manager also has a wealth of experience with the type of project being executed. I’m not a fan of the concept that it is best if a Project Manager is not technical expert or domain expert. The Project Manager also needs to be a Problem Solver.

If you do not have the technical expertise, how can you fully empathize with the team?

If you do not have the business domain, how can you fully empathize with the client?


Steve was right. It isn’t that simple.

The best Project Manager I ever worked with had these three competencies:

  • Excellent Technical expertise
  • Excellent Business Domain knowledge
  • Excellent Emotional Intelligence

Although it is rare to have all three, I have found that excellent Emotional Intelligence with either technical or Business Domain expertise is a very good indicator of success. And someone I would like to have on my team.