In Defense of Business Tactics to Preserve Cultures - Part 2

Author: Dustin Hall

Dustin Hall also posted on this topic at medium.com

We left off last week with me feeling reassured that I could show up to work each day and act like some sort of Product Manager and All-Around-Business-Guy

In this Part 2 of my post, I describe 6 product management principles that I have adopted and adapted to help CoDA’s mission of preserving cultures digitally.

 

LEAN business canvas

The Lean Business Canvas is a nine-panel chart that, when completed, lays bare a company’s best answers to some difficult questions: “Does our solution address a real problem?” and “How can we actually deliver this solution to people?”  There are some pieces written about how to approach filling out the canvas. No matter your team’s approach to this exercise, by the end, you will have finally put onto paper the problem you’re trying to address, the solution you have offered, and how it differs from anybody else.  Filling out the canvas is one of the best ways to confrontlay bare any assumptions that might not yet been acknowledged or identified as a group.  Perhaps most importantly, your team will identify your Unique Value Proposition, or UVP.  A UVP is a clear statement that describes the unique benefits you offer, how you solve your client’s needs and what distinguishes you from other organizations. Your unique value proposition should appear prominently on your landing page and in every marketing campaign. Nonprofits benefit just as much from this exercise in planning and transparency as any other company. Once you’ve completed the Lean Business Canvas, you’ll certainly have a better idea whether your foundation’s mission responds best to the problem you’ve set out to address.

 

Market sizing

Roughly stated, the goal of a business is to make something that people want to buy.  With luck, perhaps you’ve created one of those things that people will actually shell money out to get.  Next questions to ask: How many people out there can buy it?  How many people will buy it?  And is it something that people can buy more than once?  Answering these questions is Market Sizing, a tactic that Product Managers use to learn about the business potential of a solution.  Nonprofits benefit from the same exercise.  How many people could benefit from our services?  Out of those people, how many people can we actually reach out and connect with?  And out of all those people we can connect with, how many can our small staff actually help?  Doing scrappy research to answer these questions will guide your team’s planning and help set realistic expectations.

 

Competitive analysis

Businesses benefit from understanding what competitors are planning and doing.  By comparing themselves to other companies, businesses can plan the timing of when to release their products and they can position themselves to be seen by populations that might have been previously ignored. Even in a cooperative space, however, where a new nonprofit will be working to join other groups in delivering a needed service to the world, knowing how your foundation is different than others will focus the team’s efforts toward your mission.  Competitive Analysis can be done on competitive matricescompetitive mapsSWOT analyses or Porter’s Matrices, but at their core, the thing these all have in common is making explicit what your group is doing and how that compares to what other foundations or companies are doing (and also, what they will be doing and what the world is going to look like in the near future).  When competing for grants, this understanding will make it very easy to say why your nonprofit is different than others and why you, in particular, deserve funding. When collaborating with other groups, a competitive analysis will show how your strengths can best complement another group’s strengths.

 

User feedback

In a traditional business, a Product Manager prioritizes which features to develop keeping in mind the needs of many parties (including the CEO’s vision, financial constraints, and engineering team’s velocity). The direction a Product Manager suggests does not come from good guesses or intuition, but rather from a position based on what they have heard from actual users.  This feedback can come from user surveys, working with customer service teams to track common complaints, or by meeting with users in person.  The reason you should trust what users say about the good and bad of a product is that they are not biased in the same way one can get sitting so close to a product as it is being developed.  Little imagination is needed to see how hearing from clients of a nonprofit is just as important as hearing from customers or users.  Planning an annual event?  What better way to improve it than from hearing from past attendees?  Improving your landing page?  Who better to guide that work than those who actually visit your site for help?  User feedback is critical for nonprofits looking to stay vital, so welcome it like you would a guest.

Strategic planning and KPI's

Nonprofits and traditional startups are borne from the same impulse: recognizing a need that does not yet have a solution, and then having the desire to create that solution.  In between that starting point (identifying a need) and the end goal (delivering a solution) lies all of the hard work.  Creating a Strategic Plan will direct that hard work to get from your idea to your solution. Strategic Planning is a managerial activity that focuses the efforts and direction of an organization’s entire staff toward predetermined goals, something useful for any team. Perhaps the most critical aspect of Strategic Planning is agreeing early on what needs to happen in order to know when and if you have succeed as a company.  What things would have to happen this year for your team to be able to say, “We had a great year!”  Decide those Key Performance Indicators (or KPI’s) in advance, measure whether you hit those expectations, and then assess performance.  For example, if your organization’s Strategic Plan says that new website visits (inbound traffic) is your goal, it is crucial to choose a figure that would indicate when, and if, you’ve succeeded.  It may feel great to experience 15% more visitors to your site, but if the goal was to double site visits (in order to grow your mailing list, for example), you’ll need to assess where your approach could have improved.  KPI’s are best at making clear how easy or difficult it is to hit the numbers you need to succeed.  It is possible that you discover it will be difficult to hit the numbers you established to indicate that you’ve objectively succeeded. It’s also possible, however, to discover that success is easier to achieve than expected, allowing you to switch goals or, even better, sleep soundly at night.

 

Bonus wildcard: Sales and marketing campaigns

Although not typically a Product manager’s responsibility, if you are ever working at an early stage startup or on a small team at a nonprofit, you will find yourself wearing many hats.  There is sometimes no better way to learn about a product or service (and what people really think about it) than by trying to sell it to them.  People (whose feedback tends to be polite by nature) can say one thing about your company or service, but what they do with their dollars may send a different message.  In fact, sales can be a great KPI to gauge the success of a campaign regardless of any other signals coming back your way.  Marketing campaigns result in numbers that don’t lie, either, if you are able track stats as they relate to your campaign.  For example, marketing an upcoming conference on different social media sites will yield different levels of response.  Noticing the places where the response is greatest sheds a light on who actually responds best (and it may not be people that you were originally expecting to respond).
When a company grows to a size where the CEO can no longer afford to spend each day guiding the development of a product directly,

Product Managers step in to ensure the success of that product over the course of its lifecycle.  The tactics Product Managers use to ensure product success ought to help other professionals tasked with ensuring the success of their foundations as well.  This list is only the beginning of this conversation about using business and Product Manager skills across disciplines.  Please contribute ideas in the comments below!