Making Linear Thinking “chic” again

Making Linear Thinking “chic” again

Last week we published the CloudTeams Playbook, a guide for Product Managers to become customer-driven. I tried to contact  people of my network to collect feedback – apart from the dedicated workshop – and I got very useful and practical input, such as “we are definitely not lean, closer to scrum”, “steps 7-12 are omitted” or “I work on step 10”. For me that feedback was fantastic! It meant that we had really built a guide where people were able to distinguish the steps, recognize their operations on the map, communicate more easily what they do and don’t do at work, and where each team member focuses.

Those interactions reminded me to point out that the CloudTeams methodology may be modified when adapted by a software team; Actually, it should be modified to fit the team’s culture. The core methodology is  an effort to separate validation from verification, and engage the team in more frequent feedback loops with its customers and users,while a user persona is the main document to transfer the generated knowledge throughout different steps (see picture below ).

The CloudTeams methodology with agile development on the bottom
The CloudTeams methodology unfolded

What we many times forget is that based on the maturity of product and the market, as well as the mentality of the team, there are steps that may be skipped. As seen on the example of the picture below, a Waterfall approach would focus on complete, well defined and executed cycles. A Lean approach would try to run early experiments to experiment mostly on pricing, even without actual builds of software, and then implement focused but verified software. An Agile approach would focus more on user feedback before going to the customer, in a more design-thinking approach where the team believes that a good product will drive sales.

The CloudTeams methodology adapted by existing methodologies
example: The CloudTeams methodology executed by a Waterfall, an Agile and a Lean team

Agile, Lean, even Rigid methodologies may be valid and effective as long as they are used in the proper context. Nevertheless, if a team follows the CloudTeams methodology, it should just adjust the suggested (12) steps accordingly to meet the business needs and goals where it operates; team members will not need to “learn new tricks”, the product manager will “just” orchestrate the steps and the tools to “make the engine work smoothly”, and thus the business will be more flexible moving from Lean for experimentation, to Agile for usage growth, to Rigid techniques for market growth, and back to Lean to (re)innovate.

We are told to run in cycles while we have a linear thinking. Thus I believe that if we work on the CloudTeams methodology we may have a common standard for product management. Please go and read the playbook, and let me know what you think about it.





Get practical: Business Ideation in the Digital Era

Get practical: Business Ideation in the Digital Era

You master a technology but you don’t know what business to start?

“Here’s the formula if you want to build a billion-dollar internet company. Take a human desire, preferably one that has been around for a really long time … identify that desire and use modern technology to take out steps.”

Ev Williams


Hopefully you have a good idea, and you may start your marathon… good luck!

Lean Everywhere: How I initiated a Sprint in an EU-funded project

Lean Everywhere: How I initiated a Sprint in an EU-funded project

When I came across the Sprint book, I immediately had the desire to run a “week of Sprint” and see how effective it could be. The problem of how we could develop innovative solutions faster and more effectively was there, but the challenge was even greater as I worked for a University, doing research on EU-funded projects. So,  I had to find the perfect timing for introducing the concept of a 5-day prototyping session, and run my experiment.

My first attempt was to prototype the second release of an existing product we developed, called Anlzer; a tool for social media analytics. The prototyping week was booked, but when the week was approaching, the project deliverables were prioritized and we dropped the idea of prototyping. I knew there was no meaning for catching up one month later, as the tool would have been in the development process based on the plan; unfortunately developing a tool under a project has lot of bureaucracy to overcome.

Nevertheless, the seed was there, and when our team got a new project on maritime big data called BigDataOcean, I was asked to organize the sprint. Still I knew that booking 5 days in a period of intense work for us – a project-oriented research lab – was impossible. Thus, I decided to propose the least effort from our side. I asked for one day, fully booked, and I asked from my team to do some preparation in advance. We made it to complete one and a half “days” in one day. Apart from tired, the team was so excited about the outcomes that we booked another day of prototyping without thinking of it. At the end the team came up with the desired customer map, its focus on a certain step, and multiple interesting ideas for possible solutions. The detailed outcomes are available here.

At the end, I had to “think Lean” to change my team’s mentality. I believe my team is now more prone to run a 5-day, full prototyping session; The next time we will want to come up with solutions, a “Sprint” will be our first option. We can still master it, but the first step to change our mindset has been done, and I am proud about it. So, don’t forget that you can be Lean everywhere

Digital Enterprise: A new Form of Enterprise unfolded – tech and business trends combined

FeaturedDigital Enterprise: A new Form of Enterprise unfolded – tech and business trends combined

We have discussed already in a previous post how the recognized technological trends are implemented in practice, or how they are about to transform 5 traditional industries in Europe. We have even presented how someone may work to become a new form of enterprise, and we have given a detailed description of the different business components that consist a digital enterprise (D3.1.2), which with the proper management it may evolve into a new form of enterprise which seeks for new business models.

Thus the main question, which this article is going to answer, is how a new form of enterprises may be formed if it is based on the upcoming technological trends? How everything gets together to form a digitalized organization that may move faster from business model to business model?

Future Enterprise.png

Figure shows a variation of the “cell-form” of a digital enterprise, unfolded to show how different technological and business trends are combined in order to generate the digital enterprise of the future.

  • Digital Workspace (with light blue color) consists of new concepts and the supporting infrastructures. In more detail:
    • Modern digital workspaces tend to support the co-creation and the collaboration of their employees, either on the office or remotely. Every interaction that is made lately in the workspace, requires high (even higher) levels of digital skills, meaning that people who are not familiar or not trained in digital technologies may not be able to adapt in future job placements. Such behaviors will be driven by enterprise gamification systems that will possibly help training and motivation of the employees. The concept of the future workspace is concluded with the enterprise mobile apps, which may apply both on mobile device but also on wearable devices; with all these applications employees and employers will be able to measure their performance, build better behaviors and interact more easily with their digital environment.
    • Digital infrastructure will support this new status quo and such a new mentality for digital workspaces. Automated operations are going to eliminate human, physical effort on standardized operations (e.g. logistics); enterprise 3D printing will reduce the cost of prototyping and will decrease the costs of on-demand and personalized production; cloud computing and API platforms have already started to reduce the costs of IT and make developing software easier, more scalable and cheaper; machine intelligence will offer most effective algorithms, will improve the analysis of data and visual signals, and will facilitate decisions; quantum computing will increase cryptography power and will make unsolvable problems easier to calculate and simulate, allowing companies to optimize their operations and decisions; prescriptive analytics will take all this power of algorithms and machine intelligence, will combine them with existing and new types of analytics, in order to provide better predictions and estimations on the future, and allow managers make better decisions based on a understable information; big-extreme data are already here, and about to change the way we analyze huge, unstructured and real-time data to give meaning on them; NLP and Q&A will reduce the pain of interaction with upcoming technologies, either internally into the workspace or during the interactions with the customers; finally, crowdsourcing will make it easier to collect feedback from external resources, either structured through propriatery appliactions or unstructured through social media platforms which hold much valuable, but not easily extracted information.
  • Digital Borders & Digital Environment (with red color) define the endpoints of interaction of a digital enterprise with its external environment. For simplicity, we organize them in input enpoints, output enpoints and the relative connections:
    • Input enpoints include the concepts and technologies that make it easier for an organization to receive physical and digital input (mainly). Thus, modern organizations will mostly require: customization enpoints will allow the organization to better collect the options of their customers, and transform those requirements into actions; social analytics will allow them to understand the social changes, the emerging trends and the power of the social networks on influencing the masses; open data will be a valuable input from publicly available data that describe a broader social and urban life context; authorization & trust will control, calculate and validate who has access, physically and digitally in certain layers of the organization; cyber, digital risk & governance will predict and simulate possible risks on the environment of the organization, and will allow the management team to manage properly the authorization and trust framework; finally, the interoperability enpoint will facilitate the connection with external system and information, as well as will validate the status of the internal systems and their compliance with standards and best practices.
    • Output enpoints have to do with various technology and concepts that increase the speed that the organization delivers its output, as well as the way they interact with other organizations: web of things allows a digital organization not only to establish programmable connections with devices in their premises, but together with the Blockchain technology allows them to build more trustful connections with their customers; automated delivery will bring physical products easier on the customers; collaborations and clusters will increase with similar, digital enterprises in order to form more flexible and scalable business models, without the need to change the internal operations or change any endpoint (i.e. the other organization is expected to have an interoperability endpoint); and finally, the IPR & licening component will manage not only the intellectual rights of the outcomes, but will also be able to monitor the proper, licenced usage of the services and the products of the organization.
    • The connections of digitalized organizations are expected to be easier and more valuable: the intelligent city will allow the organization to use the autonomous transportation infrastructure to move around their physical assets, while the wireless connections will allow the easier integration of web of things into the city, and the real-time feedback for the urban context of the organization and its customers; the intelligent factory, an expected digitalized, future enterprise, will be easily integrated and will facilite real-time and customized production; the intelligent home will increase the speed that digital products are delivered, will facilitate their consumption and will build more trustful business models with the customers, as it will be more easy to charge them based on usage, and to lease solutions to them; last but not least, the collaboration and clustering with similar, enterprises of the future, will allow the construction and the constant evolution of new, networks of digital enterprises.
  • Digital Innovations (with purple color) refer to a playbook that enterprises of the future will be able to use, in order to remain competitive and explore new markets. Provided that those organizations are digitalized, in a matter of worskpace and enpoints, they will be in the position to constantly experiment with their business models. Enterprises of the future will be able to explore new business models by builidng a digital – or a digitally controlled – supply chain, by trying to digitalize their processes, by creating digital marketplaces to sell not only digital products but also services on enhanced offerings (i.e. physical products with services delivered after-sale to create a more powerful user experience and even create new revenues), manage their finance digitally, and at the end experimenting on transforming physical products into digital, virtual experiences. (For further guidance and inspiration, you may read the relative list of the popular Business Model Innovations)
  • Digital Strategy (with orange color) cannot be enabled unless a digital organization is present. Referring to this term, we don’t refer to actually a digital asset or technology, but actually on the business and corporate strategy of enterprises of the future which are going to be boosted because of the new technologies; they will be supported by systems which are better connected and deeper integrated through real-time analysis, while data will be more and computational power adequate to support most types of analyses. Taking into consideration, as well, the playbook of available innovations, it is a matter of the managers to run simulations, decide, measure and adopt into feedback loops, in order to apply more effective strategies on all the different parts of their business. In some extend, some decisions may even be taken automatically, based on the changes that the organization senses on its environment. For example, customer strategy may change if social changes show a change in preferences, or an emerging trend, in order to capture a new segment. Brand management may require launching a new brand, in order to capture the new identified segment without disrupting the old business. Pricing for this segment may become dynamic based on the analytics of sales, change automatically on a bidding marketplace and inform the existing customers that have subscription or per usage plans. New channelsmay be enabled, to advertise and sale on this new segment, and a new partnership may be needed with a new supplier and a retailer to complete this new business model. Looking for the alternatives, searching for the trust of the organization, suggesting M&As and checking any legal implications may be part of all the future Business Intelligence, IT solutions (which are not there yet).
  • Digital Leadership (with green color) requires further steps in relation to the digital strategy for its realization. New models will need to support leaders of the future, in order to monitor how differnt parts of the business apply, translate them into behaviors that in time build a culture, and define the critical points where such behaviors break or need to change. Based on them, simulations for changing the organization may be needed. We need to mention that a future enterprise may need to be more agile, change their operations faster in order to enable new business models; such fast changes may require faster hiring, even firing some workforce, or at least the development of more agile and horizontal skills on the employees. Driving people into constant changes may be risky and definitely needs the proper management rules and tools, as well as the change in mindset in order to be effective. We have seen how many big enterprises have collapsed during the digital era because they couldn’t adapt (e.g. Kodak), thus we expect more challenges to emerge in that business area.


This is an article collaboratively written by NTUA (Iosif Alvertis) and EPFL (Gianluigi Viscusi) and initially published in a FutureEnterprise blog post.


The reading list of a Product Manager

The reading list of a Product Manager

During my recent presentation on a CloudTeams workshop we organized about Product Management, I came up with a slide that boosted audience’s interest. I have written before a list of the 10+1 top books for entrepreneurs, but this list focuses on Product Managers, and I consider it is useful to describe the idea behind it.

reading lisy pm.PNG

Maybe the greatest trend lately in business is the concept of Design Thinking. I have tried to go deeper in that theory with various online articles and books. Design Thinking is a culture for modern teams on how products should be developed, how teams should be organized, and organizations should communicate. We may consider it as an “umbrella theory” that few have mastered.

The first (in my opinion) step to master Design Thinking is the Theory of Jobs to be to Done, introduced by C. Christensen. In order to engage the team in meaningful innovation activities, team members should focus on real customers’ needs. This brainstorming and collaboration framework allows people to see a broader space of meaningful solutions.

However, even if a team masters this theory, specific ideas should emerge and be prioritized; not to mention how difficult it may be to be implemented. This is where the “Sprint” methodology may be used to put the team on the track of detailed solutions, and the fast validation of them, through techniques of prototyping. Even if booking a 5-day prototyping session looks weird, the tools and steps described in this book are effective and engaging. At the end, at least you will know how prototyping may be implemented and not remain “yet another buzzword” for you.

If a PM is lucky to find a promising idea, it is time to deliver it. Much has been written about the “Lean Startup methodology, thus the only think I may add is how important it is for a PM to understand the difference between an MVP and a prototype (see picture below). If the team is in a Lean mentality and wants to run a fast experiment to validate the market, this is the proper time. Otherwise, if the team wants to be “Agile” and complete a functional product before testing, more reading and effort is needed.

mvp vs prototype.png

If you want to become Agile – rather than Lean -, you should master the book “Lean Analytics. The two things you have to do is to choose your business model and  the one metric you measure in each iteration, based on the stage where your product is.

What Lean and Agile usually miss is the need to tune up and master the channels of a company. This is why you need the help of the “Bullseye Framework.

So, we are at the end of the journey, but everyone needs a revision. The best framework for doing that is the “Four Steps to the epiphany. I liked the initial edition better, but you may go for the “Entrepreneur’s Guide”.

Last but not least, there are some books that you need to read and are extremely useful. “Running Lean will teach you how to interview customers, BM generation will help you talk a common language even with business students, and “Ten Types of Innovation” is the ultimate handbook for people who want to innovate on business models.

I hope you liked this “progressive reading list”, it took me some years to put everything together. If you like it, share it with others. If you think I missed something, let me know. Soon, we will also release the “CloudTeams Handbook” where you will see a more detailed manual on how practicing those theories, tools and frameworks. Stay tuned!

What Tesla does better than Apple


While I was watching the pitch of Elon Musk for the new Model 3 by Tesla, I saw a similarity with the latest iPhone SE presentation. What I realized was that both companies seem to have a similar strategy, even now with the launch of their latest products.

Both companies followed a similar strategy in their lifecycle: they both started niche with very expensive products to fuel their innovation activities, while they put their bet on a strong brand name, on high-end design, even on an influential, eccentric CEO.Then they developed an ecosystem of important technologies (e.g. supercharge vs touchscreen) and solutions that supported their main offering (e.g. Tesla battery vs iPhone).They even faced similar financial crises, getting close to bankruptcy. On the other hand, Tesla did not the mistakes of Apple and was more open to partnerships and stakeholders early on, with open patents and SDK on their cars (almost), as they needed the community on their side to convince their customers to do a more risky and greater transition from gas to electric energy.

What Tesla did faster than Apple was the democratization of its technology.

In 2016, both companies have a huge step forward for their strategies; Tesla does with Model 3 only 13 years after its foundation what took Apple 40 years to do: They choose to make technology affordable to masses:

  • Tesla launched Model 3, a high-tech supercar that you can purchase with $35K, a bit more expensive than the boring hybrid Prius but still cooler and faster; Model 3 a car much more affordable and less equipped than existing Tesla models, but still a brilliant car.
  • Apple launched iPhone SE, a smaller phone with better battery than iPhone 6s, better specs than iPhone 5s, and a lower price of 400$; if someone wants to buy a high-quality smartphone, now he has to choose among an iPhone SE, a Nexus phone and maybe some other flagships phones (e.g. OneNote) which are equally or even more expensive.

In 2016, two high-end, luxurious technological products became more affordable to mainstream users. Tesla did it proactively to catch up competition and lead the electric-car market, even the presentation of Elon Musk was based on presenting their strategy. Apple did it reactively to respond to dropped iPhone sales for the first time after the launch of the product line, and even Jony Ive was missing from the frame.

The opportunity for Tesla to disrupt the car industry worths this transition.

The opportunity for Tesla to disrupt the car industry worths this transition, but is it equally important for Apple? Apple does control the (value not the size of the) smartphone market already which has been already disrupted by Apple , while it has multiple other product lines that are quite expensive (i.e. there was a reduction also in the Apple Watch). Why did Apple has chosen to do this lately?

Apple couldn’t stand missing the strategic role of iPhone in its ecosystem.

Apple is in a critical point of maturity. Many Apple fans complain lately about the lost hype of Apple. iPhone 6 didn’t impress many people but only followed the hype of larger screens; iPad has more name tags than Windows Vista; Same with MacBooks, which show no progress and still remain extremely expensive ($1,800 for a serious laptop is insanely expensive); Apple TV is still immature, Apple car makes no meaning lately, Apple Watch has one more chance to impress us. In the center of this ecosystem is the iPhone, everything connects and interacts with an iPhone, thus Apple couldn’t stand missing the strategic role of iPhone in its ecosystem, as well an entry point to its ecosystem of products and service.

If a more affordable iPhone is enough for Apple to keep growing – or if new product lines or more affordable versions of their existing products are required – will be realized by the end of 2016. For Tesla we have to wait a bit longer to see how its strategy goes in action…

Facebook vs Google: Who is going to be your next phone carrier?


Today Google has announce Google Fiber has started enrolling customers, so it is a no-brainer  point to say that Google is interested to become your next phone carrier, both on land phones but also on your cell phone with Google Project Fi. What you may have not thought about is that Facebook tries to do the same, in a brilliant, indirect (i.e. thus more risky) strategy.

Facebook follows a reverse innovation strategy combined with the network effects power to beat the phone carriers in their own game.

Lately you may have read about as a vehicle to give internet access to developing world where Facebook will be a basic internet application for users (and how India reacted on that), or about the Facebook Lite version of the largest social network as an application to give faster and cheaper access to users with small data plans or slow connections. Zuckerberg has even announced publicly that they have such intentions.

What you might have missed is Facebook’s acquisition of Ascenta, a solar, drone company back in 2014, and the announcement of test flights by Facebook in 2015. The acquisition of many compression algorithms like QuickFire Networks signal their interest to enter less technologically developed networks. Even Facebook’s greatest acquisition ever,  the outstanding $22b deal (at the end) with WhatsApp (somebody believes it is the best deal ever), apart from a mobile strategy and a defensing tactical move against the chatting apps, was an entry point to many devices around the world and of course in their SMS/chat applications.

The interesting thing is that few believe that Facebook is going to make it, and this is the most brilliant part of their strategy. In the deal, some of the greatest infrastructure companies have signed in, like Ericsson. As an Ericsson manager told me back in 2014 when the deal was up, after a Barcelona mobile conference he attended, “Facebook is like a kid that tries to play with its toys, we do the serious work on the antenna-level with algorithms to improve services on the network level while they want to use our technology to expand“. What this point misses is that Facebook -like a smart kid- absorbs more information and learns faster than its teacher, while it uses them as a vehicle to enter an anticipated market of billion of users.

Telecommunications have by definition strong social characteristics

But still, you didn’t tell us why I may buy a service plan from Facebook” you might say. This is the best part in my opinion. Facebook follows a reverse innovation strategy combined with the network effects power to beat the service providers in their own game. In detail, as Facebook tests networking infrastructure in remote areas (like the Project Loon by Google)  but no one expects to see soon such a solution in developed world. But in remote areas where a smartphone is the only access point to the internet, Facebook wants to capture those users, give them an access to the Internet through its platform, reduce the cost of media loading and subscribe them to its Facebook application with a social profile. In other words, each application or technology in the broader Facebook ecosystem works in favor of a dominance strategy in those areas. When Facebook will improve the networking technologies, after tested in extreme environments, while Google operates on high-end technological networks mainly. Facebook will be then able to enter also the mainstream markets of technologically developed world with their innovations on wireless networks; the definition of a disruptive innovation. And together with the technology will bring a community of billion of users to its existing products. Just brilliant… if it works.

So the question is who is going to win this race for vertical solutions in the telecommunication game. We will see what carriers will achieve in response to this threat with the net neutrality pressure, and how hardware companies (e.g. Ericsson, Huawei) will team up in this game. Google has taken the lead with a bigger cash pile and existing operational projects both in developed and developing world. Facebook follows a different approach as it plays its bet on the game it knows best; enter unsaturated markets and win through the virality of its offerings. At the end, telecommunications have by definition strong social characteristics… Let the battle begin!