John D. clenched his fist. What seemed like a promotion was now feeling more like a curse. John’s work on building a culture of community and improving collaboration in his team had been rewarded. He was now expected to help manage the innovation pipeline of the organization. While it mostly involved things he loved evangelizing – like community, collaboration and lean, there was one part that no one had warned him about. It was the pitch. After all the hard work in setting up teams to innovate new products, he had to also help them get funded, by pitching to the guys upstairs. John did not believe in numbers. In fact, it crushed his soul to have to make up all these scenarios of economic temptation so some “bozos” upstairs would see the light and fund awesome ideas. What was worse, those “bozos” would see right through his bluff, and cut all his projections. It wasn’t so much about getting the funding he needed. It was the horrible feeling of having been forced to lie, and being caught on it. Nothing he’d ever done in his life had lacked dignity like this work process.
The story of John D. is the story of many a product/innovation manager. They are in an impossible situation where they feel that they either have to cross over to the dark side or stop playing this game. But the story of John D. does not have to end tragically. For, in a quiet corner at Stanford, the humble field of Decision Analysis (DA) has become a game-changer in transforming this situation. DA ostensibly focuses on helping people make better decisions, but if one digs deeper, the core principle seems to be “tell the whole truth.” DA has borrowed from the greatest contribution of science to human language – the language of uncertainty, and brought it down to a usable form for individuals and organizations.
Inspired by this foundation, and a vision of restoring respect and dignity to the economic evaluation process, SmartOrg has endeavored to transform the conversation so that people like John D. do not have to compromise their dignity when engaging with economics. By using powerful distinctions that legitimize the expression of what we do not know and telling the whole truth about it, we are able to discover which knowledge gaps actually matter, and turn the economic conversation from one of pitching to one of learning. When product teams use this process, they discover, much to their surprise, that the people who used to be in positions of judgment are now acting as coaches, bringing their experience to bear on the assumptions that have been made. Both sides are actually able to collaborate on a tangible and clear work item that leads to clarity of action, and not just talk.
Anything with the potential of restoring dignity and respect to people’s work lives is too important to be limited to a single company. Therefore, SmartOrg is making available David Matheson’s introductory Portfolio Management 101 lecture in Stanford University’s popular Decision Analysis class to the public. David prefers an experiential approach to learning, and this lecture was preceded by a simulation that students were asked to take. We have also opened up the simulation to the general public so that you can participate in it. Once you have taken the lecture, please feel free to post any questions as comments to this post.
Finally, using these ideas to transform your company’s economic evaluation process requires more help. In particular, you will have to articulate what you are trying to do concisely and clearly to busy executives. To help you, we have collaborated with Frost & Sullivan to produce a Best-Practice Guidebook, which you can request. Installing the process also requires systems that will support these conversations. We have a sofware solution that makes it easy. Here is a video that explains how we can help.
Click here to play the Portfolio Game (we recommend you play the game before watching the lecture)
Watch David Matheson’s lecture at Stanford University
Click here to request the Portfolio Management Guidebook from Frost & Sullivan