Does your company have the RIGHT kind of problems?


Having worked at several companies, and known well many others, I’ve seen some patterns, both good and bad, within those companies. WRT problems in companies, some companies can be described as having the right problems to address and others with the wrong problems to address.

What kinds of problems does your company have?

Let me explain, and I’m sure you’ll relate quickly.

Every company has problems. Any time 2 or more people get together to do something of substance, there will be disagreements, different perspectives, different agendas, motivations, goals, frames of reference etc. Ever been in a relationship? 🙂

If anyone says they work for a company that has no problems they are either lying or delusional.

When looking at problems they can be classified in many different ways. They can be external or internal, strategic or tactical, short term or long term, easy or difficult, process or structural, financial, personal, cultural, technical etc. etc. etc.

The Wrong Problems
Personal, cultural, structural and financial problems are typically the wrong kinds of problems to have to worry about. The list of such ailments can be a long one:

  • CXO Irrationalis — Crazy ideas of one or more CXOs form company strategy
  • Senior Management Dyfunctia — The executive team is completely limp and useless and no pill can fix it
  • SOTW Syndrome — Strategy of the Week Syndrome
  • BOD Apnea — Board of Directors falls asleep far too often providing no oversight for the company
  • Managerial Cerebral-Rectum Entrenchyitis –Work this one out…you can do it.
  • Frank Sinatra Syndrome — Boss says everything must be done “My Way”
  • Founderitis — Hardening of the brains of the founders
  • PWPF Disorder — Penny Wise, Pound Foolish Disorder. Usually occurs when an influential CMO suffers from CXO Irrationalis.
  • Feudal Lord Syndrome — Personal fiefdoms and silos rampant throughout the company
  • RTMWAC Disease — Rush to Market Without a Clue, and hope for success
  • Lame Product Syndrome — Self explanatory. Better to kill it than let the suffering continue
  • SLFAP Disorder — Solution Looking for a Problem Disorder
  • Field of Dreams Dementia — When a company has a “If we build it, they will come” attitude
  • Analysis Paralysis — an oldie, but a goodie, and far too common
  • Dilbert Syndrome — When your company too closely resembles the Dilbert comic strip
  • Malcolm Crowe Disease — A company that doesn’t realize it’s actually dead. Don’t get the reference? Click here.

There are many more I’m sure. Can you relate to any of these? Can you suggest some others?

If your company suffers from one or more of these, think hard about what you are doing at that company, because in all likelihood, as a Product Manager, your efforts to move things forward are being blocked or hampered and your energies wasted. Unfortunately, I’ve seen some of these in previous companies I worked at.

At one startup, a new CEO called a company meeting to discuss how to turn around the company, which at the time was suffering from SLFAP Disorder. After a number of product ideas were mentioned, I suggested some market research to get a better understanding of what people needed and then decide what to build. I wasn’t even a product manager at the time. The response from the CEO (clearly not suffering from Analysis Paralysis) was that by the time you get the research done, you could have finished building a product and have taken it to market! Needless to say, BOD Apnea helped the company fail under his wise stewardship.

At another company, suffering from a small case of Feudal Lord Syndrome mixed with Field of Dreams Dementia. A particular VP of engineering who had a couple of pet projects he wanted his team to work on, got rebuffed by the product management team who came armed with requirements supported by vast amounts of customer data. And when it was shown that his pet project was low on customer priority lists, he responded: (and I quote)

“The problem with product management is that you talk to too many customers!”

I think his problem with Product Management was that we were doing our jobs; something clearly he didn’t like.

Anyway, if you work in companies with these kinds of problems, I recommend making a hard assessment of whether your time, effort and intellectual abilities are going to make a difference at that company, and whether the rewards you will get outweigh the grief you’ll have to deal with.

If you decide to move on, try to find a company that has what I call, the right kind of problems.

The Right Problems
Quite simply, the right kind of problems are the ones that you look forward to solving when you get into work. Companies typically encounter good problems because they are already successful and need to accelerate growth or are on the path to success.

The kinds of right problems I like to solve include:

  • Identifying new markets to enter
  • Devising plans to attack larger competitors or quickly blocking emerging ones
  • Scaling businesses processes to meet current and future growth
  • Productizing good technology to address new problem spaces
  • Developing and growing teams of high caliber individuals

Note that the right problems aren’t as funny as the wrong problems and there are fewer of them (at least for me), but in the end, they are far less trying, and thus humour is not needed to take the pain away.

Companies with the right kinds of problems have what I call, a “necessary level of rationality”. No company is completely rational or irrational — OK, please someone prove me wrong! — but certainly, companies have different levels of rationality in their management teams, and to be honest, that is where most of the big problems arise that plague companies.

Is the management team a cohesive unit, or are they trying to be captains of their own ships?

Does the CEO have a clear vision and grasp on the company’s ability to execute on his/her vision out of synch with reality?

Are sales and marketing aligned and skilled enough to meet their goals?

Does the engineering team have the ability to build what needs to be built with the level of quality, scalability, performance, flexibility, ease-of-use etc. that is needed?

Does the product management team have the skills to properly understand the market needs and define the solutions that need to be built with the right priority?

Does the company culture enable all these teams to work together to successfully build, market and sell winning products?

Does the company possess the domain knowledge (internally or externally) to compete and succeed in their chosen market or are they reaching for something beyond their know how?

If a company measures negatively on any of these questions, then there is a level of irrationality that will cause churn in the efforts of others. Even the best products can’t succeed without alignment in marketing and sales. Conversely even the best marketing and sales teams will likely flounder unless backed by good product management and engineering. You get my point. Look for companies with a good level of rationality and you’re likely to find a company that has the right problems to solve.

Have you worked at companies with the wrong types of problems? What did you do?

And if you had the pleasure of working at companies with the right kinds of problems, what do you think it was that made the company that way?

Saeed

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