• Ferhan Bulca

    I am an executive leader and a serial intrapreneur focused on innovation and design thinking. My purpose in life is to create products and services that make the world a better place to live in.

    In the course of my career, I have developed a deep understanding and expertise on all aspects of technology commercialization and product/service development. As a result, I have built multi-million dollar businesses from the ground up.

    I am the creator and the Lead Instructor for Business Innovation Certificate Program at University of Toronto, School of Continuing Studies.

    I offer business consulting services and I am available as a speaker for private and public events.

    Watch my recent talk at Ashoka Canada's Changemakers event at University of Toronto on YouTube.

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Five Steps to Technology Commercialization – Monitor

This is the fifth and final posting in my series of “Five Steps to Technology Commercialization.” Earlier, I introduced a commercialization framework for new and innovative business development (click here to read it). The key objectives of Monitor phase are:

  • Keeping an eye on how your business is performing
    As the old management adage goes, you only improve what you measure. The success or failure of your business depends on what KPIs you monitor and what you do with them. Too many KPIs and you will be stiffled with analysis paralysis, too few KPIs and you will be shooting in the dark due to insufficient information. Finding the right balance and monitoring it regularly gives you the deep insight you need to manage your business.
  • Responding quickly and effectively to what matters, and ignore all else
    In contrast to the old management adage mentioned above, E.W. Deming says “you can only measure 3% of what matters.” So, you need to pick your KPIs carefully. The next step is creating a responsive culture, where ownerships and accountabilities are clearly defined, and response plans are articulated. Reactionary responses usually do more damage than what they fix, so plan out response thresholds and maintain a culture where accountability is king. 
  • Update and modify KPIs as market/business conditions change
    Just like taxes and death, change happens whether you like it or not. Regularly review your KPIs and response plans to ensure that you are monitoring and taking action on what is relevant to your business.

Here is how you achieve these objectives:

  1. Define key performance indicators and response plans
  2. Define accountabilities and responsibilities
  3. Create dashboards and monitor performance
  4. Establish a rapid-response culture
  5. Reward action, punish inaction

This posting concludes my series titled Five Steps to Technology Commercialization. I tried to give you a glimpse of a process that I have developed and have applied in a variety of cases. Naturally, devil is in the details. I hope the overview of the process helps you successfully deploy your own commercialization initiatives.

I welcome your comments on my blog. Please share this posting if you find it helpful. If you have any questions, comments or thoughts, I would love to hear from you.

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More Thoughts on Large Companies and Innovation – An Oxymoron?

A few days ago, I posted a blog article on how large companies can (and should) leverage their strengths to create innovative solutions to problems. I was happy to see comments and two other posts in response, one in agreement, the other opposing my thoughts. I think it is fantastic to have differing opinions and wanted to share my follow-up thoughts on the topic.

Jennaromeo agrees with me in her post at  http://bizgovsoc4.wordpress.com/2012/09/11/innovation-at-large-companies-is-it-possible/. On the other hand, nyeinzawko thinks differently in http://bizgovsoc4.wordpress.com/2012/09/11/are-giant-corporations-really-a-place-for-great-innovations/#more-701.

I should clarify one of my points: I don’t make a broad arguement that large organizations are the catalysts for innovation. In fact, I don’t think that they are. My point is that large organizations have certain strengths that could make them catalysts if they learn how to leverage those strengths. Some organizations have figured out how to leverage their strengths. However, such organizations are more of an exception than the norm. I argue that all large organizations can and should create innovative arms as a way to secure future growth and, more importantly, relevance to customers.

As Drucker said “the purpose of a business is to create a customer.” Creation of customers only happen if an organization makes a concious effort, understand the evolving needs of current customers and unmet needs of non-customers. This is not business as usual.

In closing, I will emphasize the work done by intrapreneurs at organizations across the globe. While entrepreneurs get (well-deserved) recognition for their hard work, intrapreneurs in organizations are not well-understood nor appreciated. Large organizations that recognize the value of intrapreneurs and allow them to leverage the strengths of the organization can become the catalysts of innovation.

I welcome your comments on my blog. Please feel free to contact me at ferhan@ferhanbulca.com with relevant comments, ideas and thoughts.

 

Have a vision? Follow your dream…with discipline!

About five months ago, I had a social meeting with a long-time friend and his son. My friend wanted his son to meet with me and discuss his thoughts for his future. When we met, the dynamics was so familiar. The father worried about his son’s future, wanted him to get a regular job and so on. The son, on the other hand, had different ideas. More importantly, he had a passion: video games. Most of the night went as one would expect. As we were walking out of the place, the father left us alone for a few minutes. Those few minutes made it obvious that this young guy was no ordinary kid. In addition to being very clear about what his passion was, he also had a game plan to convert his passion to a business.

Fast forward to a couple of days ago… I met my friend (the father) again and listened to the accomplishments of his son in a few short months. He had set up a YouTube channel, broadcasting his expertise on a video game. He beat the game before the provider made changes to it to make it less challenging for the average player. He interviewed on BBC, no less, and has thousands of followers of his video updates. Some of his YouTube videos attracted millions of visitors. And, his efforts started to bear fruit. The month before, he generated what I would call serious revenue for his start-up.

At the second meeting, my friend was no longer worried about his son. Instead, he expressed his admiration for the son’s passion and discipline. And, this is the important point: discipline.

What made this guy successful is the combination of his passion and his discipline. He clearly articulated what he envisioned, which was an achievement in itself. But, he also planned and executed every step to get there. When I was listening to the events of the past months from his father, I was remembering the things the son had told at our first meeting. It was clear that his success was not incidental, it was carefully thought-out and impeccably executed.

My hat is off to this kid!

I welcome your comments on my blog. If you have specific questions, please feel free to contact me at ferhan@ferhanbulca.com.

Your Organizational Culture Determines How You Innovate on Mature Products/Markets

Everybody can visualize the organizational culture of a start-up company. A small group of dedicated, motivated people working shoulder-to-shoulder with visionary founder(s). Things are humming and dynamic. How about the organizational culture when the product matures and is adopted by a larger market segment? How does that culture contribute to further innovation?

Let me first frame the conversation using Geoffrey Moore’s four innovation zones, introduced in his book Dealing With Darwin. Moore maps these four zones to his famous market adoption curve.

Geoffrey Moore's Four Innovation Zones

Geoffrey Moore’s Four Innovation Zones

At the leading edge of the curve is Product Leadership, which corresponds to disruptive innovation. At the tail end, there is Category Renewal. In this post, I will focus on the middle section and discuss the role of organizational culture in the company’s ability to innovate in that area.

Geoffrey Moore identified two main innovation categories for mature products/services:

  • Customer Intimacy refers to improving the value of the product/service to customers,
  • Operational Excellence is about improving operational efficiency to gain cost advantage over competitors.

While many organizations claim or want to do both, typically their culture is geared towards one or the other, not both. Improving customer intimacy requires an outward looking culture whereas the attention is inside when it comes to operational excellence. In today’s bottom-line driven approach, operational excellence is where most organizations focus because:

  • One can readily quantify goals: Cost of materials, taking waste out of operations, automating processes are all quantifiable and easily understandable. Leaders can set goals (eg. “reduce warehouse floor usage by 50%”) and monitor progress.
  • Improvements are internal: Improvements are done in operations behind closed doors. They are under the control of leaders of the organization.
  • There is little risk of public failure: What happens in the company stays in the company. Naturally, operational changes may impact customer experience but, for the most part, the outside world has limited visibility to how operations are run.

Customer intimacy, on the other hand, requires a different culture, which emphasizes continuous effort to better understand customers and respond to their evolving needs. True customer insight comes through walking a mile in the customers’ shoes, understanding their pain points and improving the product/service to eliminate these pain points. This approach conflicts with operational excellence as it is outward looking, ambiguous, risky and potentially costly.

In summary, customer intimacy and operational excellence require two very different organizational cultures to do well. These cultures are inherently in conflict with each other and should be managed well to be successful. Otherwise, typically operational excellence camp wins at the expense of better customer experience.

I welcome your comments on my blog. If you have specific questions, please feel free to contact me at ferhan@ferhanbulca.com.

Is Your Skin Thick Enough to be an Intrapreneur?

Intrapreneurs are a rare breed of people, who are motivated by opportunities to lead corporate growth. In doing so, they typically take inordinate career risks because they are driven by “doing the right thing to create value” but such value is generated over a time frame which is mostly outside their control.  They are different from entrepreneurs because they are not doing it for their own companies.

Their personal benefits, if business becomes successful, are typically quite limited. On the flip side, intrapreneurs enjoy access to better resources and, unlike entrepreneurs, they are not encumbered by cash-flow issues. Larger organizations that employ intrapreneurs typically have deeper pockets than most entrepreneurs do.

To be successful, intrapreneurs need to change the company culture, do things differently, do it efficiently, shake the boat, and gain internal support to get things done. That is a tall order even in change-friendly organizations. The way intrapreneurs operate typically do not resemble the way daily operations work. This difference is necessary to achieve new and innovative results but it is also at odds with the typical results-driven, bottom-line focused organizations.

Abbie Griffin, Raymond L. Price and Bruce A. Vojak call such people “Serial Innovators” in their book with the same title (you can find a review of the book at http://sloanreview.mit.edu/the-magazine/2012-summer/53419/what-it-takes-to-be-a-serial-innovator).  In spite of the enormous value intrapreneurs bring to their organizations, the authors report that a number of the serial innovators they interviewed thought that if they were just starting out today, their companies would not hire them. Fortunately, there are a good number of intrapreneurs who are not discouraged by this observation and continue to be motivated to bring in new and exciting businesses to life.

I welcome your comments on my blog. If you have specific questions, please feel free to contact me at ferhan.bulca@intrascope.ca.

How To Gain Customer Insight?

Recently, I was working with a client when he told me that he was mandated to develop customer insight so that their products attract better adoption. Being in business for over 20 years, he had good ideas about what customers cared for. He also recognized that there was probably a lot more he could learn about his customers but he did not know where to start. So, we put our thinking hats on and started brainstorming.

First, we needed a framework to work on. Inspired by Using Customer Insight to Build Competitive Advantage (2003) by Carlson Marketing Group, we created this:

Customer insight cycle

Customer Insight Cycle

Let me explain this framework a bit: We all have assumptions and convictions about what customers value in our offerings (products/services). We have an idea about the tough problems we solve for our customers. This knowledge is customer insight. We take actions based on our insight but, most of the time, we do not fully validate our understanding of the customer. Our actions are, most of the time, not purely based on our understanding of the customer, either. Many internal (organizational) factors contribute to the decisions we make and the actions we take. These multiple factors add complexity to the next two steps, Assessment and Data, making it difficult to make a direct cause and effect relationship.

Second, we discussed applying this framework to his problem to see if it fit. The first question was where to start. It is a cycle and it is hard to identify where one steps in. We decided that Insight box was the place to start. This may come across surprising because customer insight is our end-goal. If we knew it already, why would we need all this exercise? In fact, we knew that we did not know everything but we had theories. In fact, the person I was working with and his peers all had theories (my word, not theirs) about their customers. The problem is that those theories were not always consistent with each other. But, who was right? That is why we start with the “Customer Insight Theories” and validate them by going through the above cycle a few times.

Third, we developed a plan for my client to work with his peers using the framework. He left the conversation energized and motivated to take the steps that will give him the insight he is looking for. Equally importantly, now he has a framework to institutionalize how the company gains and retains customer insight.

I welcome your comments on my blog. If you have specific questions, please feel free to contact me at ferhan.bulca@intrascope.ca.

Eliminate Your Innovation Pains, Part 3

This is the third and final part of my posts where I discuss ways to deal with the top three pain points in the management of product portfolio according to the Third Product Portfolio Management Benchmark Study by Planview (http://www.planview.com/m1/pd/3rd-product-portfolio-management-benchmark-study-hph).

  1. Too many projects for available resources,
  2. Not being able to drive innovation fast enough,
  3. Decisions that go back and forth, get made late or ineffectively.

In this post, I will address the third pain: Decisions that go back and forth, get made late or ineffectively.

In building a new product/service, the whole point is about delivering new value to customers. However, this fundamental goal may be lost when teams are working on the details, typically with little or no connection to customers. Eventually, teams may drift away from truly valuable features that differentiate the product/service being developed.

I recently worked with a business leader, who demanded to see a clear map between the value proposition and the features being developed. While developing the map was challenging at first, it became a valuable tool in making decisions. We used the map in both directions; value proposition to features, and from features to value proposition.

The tool is simple and looks something like the table below.

Value proposition-feature mapping table

Value proposition-Feature Mapping

Building this table helped our team in a number of ways:

  1. We could assess the importance of features and their relevance to value proposition. Filter out features that did not have a strong linkage to a value proposition.
  2. More specifically articulate the value proposition.
  3. Create a clear linkage for the development team between what they do and  what customers are expected to value.

I welcome your comments on my blog. If you have specific questions, please feel free to contact me at ferhan.bulca@intrascope.ca.

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