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It’s The Product, Stupid – Unintended Consequences

4 Mar

So I’m in the shower at the Rec Center this morning, using yet another brand of body wash.  Why, you ask?  Well, it’s not that I don’t have a favorite; I do.  I am a fan of Axe, even though their ad campaigns and product graphics are, well, juvenile.  I think they have a great body wash and I would use it every day, but I don’t.

Why not?  No, it’s not because young women were starting to pester me, it’s much more mundane than that.

It has to do with the bottle design.  The bottle ‘opens’ by pushing down on the back of the lid, which works like a rocker switch to open the front of the lid.  Clever design until the day when, jostled around in my travel bag, the lid opens, spilling Axe all over the inside of the bag.  It only had to happen a couple of times to make me realize that Axe was not for travel, only for home.   So now, I switch from brand to brand looking for an alternative.  The initial criteria is, the bottle can’t be opened accidentally, after that, I consider the actual contents of the bottle.

The moral of the story?  the ‘product’ is not just what’s inside the container, it is the entire experience.  Axe failed to provide the ‘product’ that I could safely bring to the rec center every morning, and now they are relegated to twice a week use.

Do you know if this is happening with your product?  Are there ‘un-intended consequences’ to your design?  You better find out!

– RTR

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Where PLM and eProcurement Meet…

29 May

My previous world (PLM) and new world (eProcurement) collided in a blog by my friend Oleg Shilovitsky; “New Definition of PLM from UK Datamation Info Assets”.

There has been a significant amount of ‘virtual ink’ spent discussing “exactly what is PLM?”  It’s provided me with a lot of blogging material over the months….

This new ‘definition’ in Oleg’s blog I found to be intriguing:

PLM is different from say CAD, ERP, CRM, etc. and therefore investment decisions in it should be based on different criteria. PLM’s key role, as defined in the Datamation PLM Model report, is the effective management of information assets through-life. In other words, it is a “live entity”

There you have it.  PLM is typically sold based on what it does for you now (vaulting… security… design process management).  Not all that different from an eProcurement system (catalog management, purchasing, contracting).  The key value through life is not that it can handle these day to day tasks.  The key value is based on the fact that it builds an endless repository of all of those transactions.

In the PLM world, this data could be used to create design best practices, or it could be used for intelligent trouble shooting of design flaws.

In the eProcurement world, this data powers Purchase Decision Optimization (PDO).  PDO means that each and every purchase can be optimized, based on previous buyer experience, supplier performance, trends, etc.; the kind of social marketplace that has become 2nd nature in the consumer world, but is still rare in business to business transactions.

So, whether it’s design data in a PLM system, or purchasing data in an eProc system, it’s not how you get the data, it’s what you do with it once you have it that counts.  Learn more about PDO here.

– RTR

Chief Energy Officer…Commenting on Tony Schwartz

18 Apr

Has anyone in leadership ever said to you, “Oh, it’s nothing to worry about” and your instant response was to worry about it?  Welcome to the club!   That’s why Tony Schwartz‘ latest blog over at the Harvard Business Review caught my eye: “Embracing What’s Wrong to Get to What’s Right”.  In it, Tony talks of how fast growing, entrepreneurial organizations are rife with stress and overload.

I’ve seen it as well, and I applaud Tony’s approach.  One of my early stumbles here was directly related to me not taking this approach.  Tony’s five key points

1. Because human beings have a strong “negativity bias,” we pay more attention to our bad feelings than to our good ones.

I am as Pollyanna as they come.  I’ve always been puzzled by the folks that would say “If you can keep your head at times like these, perhaps you don’t understand the situation”.   Some have accused me of not caring, taking things too lightly, joking at inappropriate times.  I’m sure it’s a defense mechanism on my part.   When it comes to problems, my initial reaction may be negative, but I push past it quickly, leaving puzzled friends, family and coworkers in my wake.

I’ve always considered it an asset, not letting things get to me, keeping a positive attitude.  I’ve begun to realize that this only helps me, it doesn’t necessarily help anyone I interact with…  especially when whatever it was that was bothering me does come back to the surface (where did THAT come from?)

2. Negative emotions do feed on themselves, but the solution — especially for a leader — is not to squelch or downplay them.

Here is the key skill.  This is something that they don’t teach you in MBA school (and certainly not in engineering school).  If you can shine a big spotlight on the negative emotions they will eventually wither and die.  Try to bury them?  Not a good idea, they just continue to grow and get stronger, manifest themselves in different ways.

3. Since we all feel negative emotions at times, especially under high demand, it’s important to provide forums at work in which they can be shared openly and without fear.

The key words here? openly and without fear.   If there is any fear of  ‘retribution’ the openly part ain’t ever gonna happen.  The thing that I struggle with is, how long can I bite my tongue when the bitch session goes on endlessly.  The example that Tony used in his blog is so elegant, and it worked so well.  It reminds me of watching the Food Network, or DIY.  Boy that souffle (or cabinet) looks so easy to make.  How come when I do it, it tastes/looks like crap?

4. Because emotions are so contagious, all leaders are effectively Chief Energy Officers.

When I think of the best leaders I’ve met, this is the key element.  I recall meeting George Bush (the first one) when he was VP.  There was an aura, an energy that the TV cameras missed.   He was always portrayed as a somewhat weak character (think of the Dana Carvey impressions).   His presence/energy t took me by surprise (at that time in my life, I was not what you’d call a Reaganite).  There was a quality there that was unmistakable.  The same can be said for many other leaders that I have had the pleasure of interacting with.   It’s something I admire, I have a LONG way to go…

5. The highest skill — whatever your role — is the willingness to embrace opposite feelings without choosing up sides. 

I do like the word choice here.  There is a technique that is taught in the Dale Carnegie Sales Advantage training class for ‘smoking out objections’.  While the end goal is to work through sales objections, at the basic level the idea is to allow people the space, and the grace, to voice their objections.  You are taught to listen, to question, to dive deep into the detail of the situation without agreeing or disagreeing.   If you can master this, I believe the rest is easy,  we all just want to be heard.

The final step is to allow the team to turn the emotion positive.

I’ve really enjoyed the new set of advertisements that GE has put out, where their employees go plane-side/track-side to see their jet engines/locomotives in action.  People cheer, there’s an occasional tear wiped away.

Back in the dark ages, as a fresh-out-of-school engineer, I witnessed this first hand.  My employer, Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, was celebrating their 50th anniversary.  The flew in an example of nearly every type of aircraft equipped with PWA engines for a weekend celebration.  Not much work was done the week before and the day after, as we all stood at the edge of the airfield and watch vintage and not-so vintage aircraft arrive and leave.

On the Monday after the show, a group of us stood in awe as an F16 pilot kicked in the afterburner of his F100 equipped fighter jet directly in front of us.  The sound was deafening.  He stood that jet up on its tail like a rocket ship a flew straight up into the stratosphere until he was completely out of sight.   It was a sight none of us would ever forget.  There WERE lumps in the throat.  There WERE tears of pride.  Office morale was unbelievable for the next few weeks.

THIS IS NOT PHONY.  People crave an emotional connection to their career.  If you can’t take time, put the emotion aside, and honestly say, “what I do here really matters”, then perhaps you are in the wrong place.

– RTR

You’re Going to Get Punched in the Face

26 Mar

Can I write a blog based on the alleged entrepreneurial wisdom of Mike Tyson?  Sure I can!

The title comes from a quote attributed to the former heavyweight champion of the world,  “Everybody has a plan, until they get punched in the face.”  The origin of the quote was actually from another former champion, Joe Louis, who said:

Every fighter’s got a plan until they get hit

That’s what differentiates “entrepreneurs” from “managers”.  Managers manage.  They plan.  They build structure.  They strive for comfort.  Many “can’t take a punch”.  They use language like, “those are the rules”, “that’s how we do things here”. I believe that’s why many large companies have difficulty maneuvering.  It takes a different mindset.

Entrepreneurs KNOW they’re going to get punched in the face.  So what?  It’s just a punch in the face.  No big deal.

…. but what if you get knocked down?   You get back up.

…. but what if you get knocked out?  You start again.

Does that mean entrepreneurs are fearless?  I don’t think so, I think it’s that their drive, their belief, is bigger than their fear.

The first entrepreneur I ever met was my late uncle, Bill Ricci.  He never went to college (that was reserved for the oldest son in this 1st generation Italian-American family, Bill was #2).  Bill was a self-taught engineer, an idea guy with seemingly unlimited energy.  My mother tells the story of when he had mortgaged everything he owned and things he didn’t own (my grandmother’s house), to get through the tough times.  In all the years I knew him,  I never saw any sign of worry, concern.  He was emotional, yes.  Boisterous. Full of life. Angered easily, laughed easily, but I never saw any sense of uncertainty.  You were never in doubt on where Bill Ricci stood on a topic.

Cambridge Tool & Mfg, now part of Pace Industries, was started by Uncle Bill in 1945.  It was an incredibly successful company, mostly because Uncle Bill knew it would be.

That’s what it’s all about.

– RTR

All Business Is The Same, It Just Looks Different

22 Mar

Chairman of La Rosa’s Pizza, T. D. Hughes, is fond of saying, “All Business Is The Same, It Just Looks Different”.  Well, I’m here to tell you as I begin day 4 at Vinimaya, when you talk about small, entrepreneurial software companies, it doesn’t look different either!

Examples:

Next man in:

This phrase is typically heard in a sports context (or military, I suppose).  When someone ‘goes down’, the next man (woman) in picks up the task and runs with it.  No one needs to ask, no one waits for permission.  It just gets done.  With one Client Service Manager stuck in business travel purgatory, another stepped in to solve a pressing customer issue.   The new guy (yours truly)  didn’t have to do anything, in fact, I didn’t even know it happened until after the problem was solved.

We’re overworked AND driven:

In my initial interviews with my team, there were comments that I more or less expected, walking into a role that had been largely vacant for 3-4 months.  People needed to vent, but even through the turmoil and frustration, nothing gets in the way of doing the right thing for the customer.  There is no one RIP here (‘Retired In Place”).

Diplomacy:

There is always a delicate balance between doing what’s right for the customer, and doing the customer’s job for them, especially with a product that is such a key element of the customer’s procurement infrastructure.  The level of diplomacy required is significant.  Seeing this diplomacy at work is great, I’ve seen some examples already that would make Dale Carnegie smile.

Not Enough Time for Quandrant II:

The self help ‘bible’ of the 1990’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” talks to the value of ‘Quadrant II activities‘, the activities that are important, but not urgent.  The speed and urgency of everything that goes on in the small entrepreneurial software company environment tends to drive quadrant II activities back into the shadows.  I believe my job is to help facilitate a proper balance.

Well, that’s enough for now, nearly a week in and still lovin’ it.

– RTR

Hard… Right… Turn…

15 Mar

This one is personal and introspective. It’s life change time, or as my Army officer son would say, a ‘Significant Emotional Event’.

I have just taken a hard right turn.

TURN:

After 16 years at CIMx Software, 30 years in manufacturing application software, and a lifetime involved in manufacturing, as of March 19, I will be the newly minted VP of Client Success at  Vinimaya.  Vinimaya is a provider of a cloud-based software for turning corporate procurement into an experience more like B2C purchasing (a la Amazon), rather than buyers having to become ERP experts or worse, become someone who’s entire job is fighting their way through endless supplier catalogs, websites, etc.

Yes, my friends, this is about as far from PLM/MES as one can get.  It excites me.  A whole new world.  On the one hand, helping clients succeed with vendor supplied software is pretty much a market agnostic endeavor.  As CIMx’ mentor, T D Hughes, would say, “All business is the same, it just looks different”.  On the other hand, the nuances and peculiarities of e-Procurement are something I will have to pick up, and quickly.

RIGHT:

Is this the right decision?  Only time will tell.  I can say that it feels right.  As former Secretary of State, Colin Powell, stated:

“If you have 40 to 70 percent of the information, you probably have what you need. Take a chance, do something. Go with your gut instinct. Because if you wait for all of the information (to make a decision) you might miss (out).”

That’s where I am.  I’ve turned over more than a few stones since the Vinimaya opportunity came my way, and everything I’ve learned (more than 40%, less than 70%), tells me this is where I ought to be.

HARD:

Is this a hard decision?  Wow.  How do you walk away from a company that you help start?  A company that you help grow from those scary but exciting first days in 1996 to a company that survives and thrives while watching competitors get acquired or go out of business?  Not to mention the camaraderie, the close family atmosphere, the friendships that span decades?   THAT, my friends, is the hard part.

But I have done it.  I have taken that hard right turn.

Never fear, PLM bloggers.  Though I have a new career, I will still be writing about software.  Do not worry, Real Time Rick is here to stay.

OH NO…  I just referred to myself in the THIRD PERSON.

I apologize, it will never happen again! 😉

-RTR

What is Networking for? Thought provoking post from the PLM Group on LinkedIn

21 Dec

Thanks to Jennifer Montez, Online Marketing Coordinator at New Grad Life for this one.  Unlike most of my blog ideas, this one sort of came out of  ‘left field’.  The referenced article struck me because of a combination of the holidays, thinking about family, and about my youngest, who will soon enter the job market.  The article’s provocative title:

“Networking means you’re looking to use people to achieve selfish goals, or opportunistically ask people for help.” – True?

That statement pushed me back in my chair.  Is that really what networking is?  Is that what I want my son to be doing as he enters the workforce?

A little introspection.  I like to jokingly say that I’m a ‘recovering engineer’.  When I was 22, I knew that I was really smart, and I wanted everyone else to know it, too.  Deep down, it was insecurity talking.  People that know me would probably not think of me as shy or insecure, but I talk a good game.  Always have.  Happy to give you my opinion.  At great length….

It has been a combination of tireless coaching by my wife, a bit of maturity, Dale Carnegie, and, strangely enough, the internet, that has started to turn me into more of a social being.  If I’m posting, I have time to be thoughtful, to edit, to think about how my comments would be received.  People that I have never met, from all over the world, become friends via shared interests (it’s also harder to interupt someone on the net).

So, what is networking for?  Is it shameless self-promotion?  For some, I’m sure.  For me?  I would be lying if I said it wasn’t an exhilirating feeling when someone responds to a blog, or decides to follow me on Twitter.  It makes my day.  But,  I don’t see it as self promotion, and it is fairly easy to see who’s interested and who’s promoting when I get responses and followers.

The best ‘networker’ I ever met was my mother-in-law, Nora.  I believe you could have parachuted Nora into a foreign country and in 24 hours she would have made a dozen new friends.  Her daughter (my wife, Mary) has the same trait.  When we go to a party, I tend to look for people I know.  We talk.  I run out of things to talk about, and I’m ready to go home.  Mary makes it a point to meet new people and find out about them.  When we drive home, she always has an interesting story about someone she met.  It’s a skill that I wish came naturally to me, but it’s something I have to work at all the time.

So what is the key to successful networking?  Dale Carnegie said it best:

“Become Genuinely Interested In Other People”

… or as the New Grad Life article quoted (also from Carnegie):

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

That is the advice I will share with my son, and the advice for anyone entering the job market.

-RTR